Leigh Daniel Cordes, Tech alumna and former track athlete, now serves as the head women’s cross country and track coach at Lubbock Christian University.
Winning seven Big 12 Conference championships, Daniel Cordes is also a two-time national champion and Tech’s first individual national champion. She also won the World University Games in Spain.
She is a mother to 5-year-old Carsyn, 4-year-old Drew and 1-year-old Masyn, and a wife to LCU’s director of cross country and track, Nick Cordes.
Jan Tilley, Daniel Cordes’ mother, said her daughter has an incredible drive, and once she has her mind set on something, she gets it done.
“She’s very competitive with herself and with people,” Tilley said. “She has a really strong faith, and I know that her faith is a really important aspect of her life. Growing up, Leigh was always my perfect child. She always got good grades. She always dressed nice, looked beautiful. She acted well. She was just a good, easy kid in that respect.”
Growing up, Daniel Cordes was always competitive, Tilley said. Even as a 2-year-old, she would get frustrated when she could not complete a puzzle.
During high school, Daniel Cordes played basketball and tennis. In basketball, she set a record for the most 3-point shots in one game.
It was not until her senior year that Daniel Cordes began to run track, and in that short amount of time, she was able to accomplish a lot.
“I think she comes from a long line of family that believes the sky is the limit,” Tilley said. “My dad always taught me that, and I’ve told her that. I’ve always known she had a special talent and ability. Not everybody is an athlete and people person. She just has this special calling on her life that I have been blessed to nurture as she’s grown. It’s difficult, too, because she can be demanding of herself.”
Daniel Cordes has experienced interesting moments throughout her lifetime. Once, evangelist Franklin Graham came into town and asked her to speak for an audience, which was a special experience, Tilley said.
Her wedding was also filmed on the “Today” show, she said.
“That’s the kind of thing that happens to Leigh,” Tilley said. “She says, ‘I think I’ll try to be on the ‘Today’ show wedding, and next thing you know, she’s there, because she makes things happen. Good things follow her around.”
Tilley has heard many testimonies from young ladies about how Daniel Cordes has inspired them. Overall, she is an incredible human with a great drive, Tilley said.
“I’m just incredibly proud of the young woman that she has become, in all aspects of her life,” Tilley said. “She’s a great athlete, yes. She’s a great mom, yes. But she’s just a great person, and I am so incredibly proud of her balance.”
Dave Smith, former track coach at Tech and current director of cross country and track and field at Oklahoma State University, said Daniel Cordes was in the group of students he coached during his first year, and she is a reason why he continued to coach.
“She was almost naïve to how good she was,” Smith said. “She didn’t know how good she could be, and she was naïve about the sport. She didn’t have a lot of information about the people she was running against. She didn’t put limits on herself. She was a dreamer and dreamed big and thought she could do big things. Even when she started winning her championships, she had dreamed it that way, and all of her steps prior to that would’ve said there was no way. But she always kind of ignored anyone who said she couldn’t do it and decided she could.”
Daniel Cordes was incredibly hard working, he said. The aspect that made her stand out the most from anyone else was that she would never let anything hinder her from her accomplishments.
“She was an absolute pit bull when it was time to race,” Smith said. “She’d lock her jaw, get ready for the race, and nothing could shake her. She would refuse to give in, in a way that a few people can.”
She was a tenacious competitor, he said. As an athlete and as a woman, she had experiences that a lot of women might experience. The fact that she overcame it all made him realize how many lives she would impact someday.
Smith said he always hoped she would become a collegiate coach someday.
“If you’ve talked to her, she’s extremely engaging,” Smith said. “She’s really charismatic, and she kind of just lights up the room when she walks in: her personality and her smile. It was just incredible, and I think people respond well to that kind of person. She’s very genuine, and never was she corrupted by herself. She always stayed very humble and very down-to-earth.”
He said his favorite memory from coaching her was during the 1999 NCAA outdoor 10,000-meter race. During the race, her shoe fell off. She sat on the track, untied her shoe to put it back on and became quite a bit behind from the rest of the runners, and she still came back to win the championship. This is a moment that people across the nation remember and he still hears people ask him about that time when he was a coach at Tech.
A lot of people would have just given up at that point, he said, but Daniel Cordes would not allow that of herself.
“Part of the reason I’m still coaching is because I got to watch her my first year,” Smith said. “And, it was really fun. Watching someone develop and grow and seeing what all they’ve accomplished, and watching her dreams come true was great. Watching her compete across the United States and in international competition: All the things runners dream about, Leigh did.”
Her allowing him to share that experience got him hooked on coaching. He said he always thought he would only coach for a year or two, but she changed that for him.
“Everybody that knows her is proud of her,” Smith said. “The things that she accomplished as an athlete and the person she is, and I’m sure the kind of wife and mom she is. She’s one of those who anything she wanted to be, she would be very good at. It’s part of her personality, and it’s who she is. No one can have a bad day around her. She’ll just ruin that bad day and put a smile on their face.”
Daniel Cordes said she has been blessed in all aspects of her life.
Originally, she wanted to be a professional runner, but she got injured. However, she said she enjoys being a coach and is thankful to be back in Texas as a coach.
Before coaching at LCU, she was a coach at Ashland University in Ohio. Daniel Cordes said she and her husband decided to move back home, so they could be closer to her family before they started their own family.
Without any clue of what jobs they would have, they made the move, she said, and she took this opportunity to become a personal trainer.
Reflecting on her time in college, Daniel Cordes said it was a special experience for her to transition from being a high school athlete at Monterey High School to a college athlete at Tech.
She said her favorite moment was when she won her first national championship. Her record time for the 5,000-meter race had been 17 minutes, and there were fast competitors.
She ran hard, hoping to beat her personal record. At the race, she said she finished at 16 minutes and 15 seconds, which ended up being the nation’s fastest at the time. This was a life-changing moment for her, realizing what she was capable of.
Growing up in Lubbock, she said she was always a big Tech fan.
“It seemed so big to me,” Daniel Cordes said. “It was always an exciting place to be when we would go to the football games and basketball games. Being able to become a part of that was amazing. I didn’t dream of being able to be an athlete there. Being able to put on the Tech uniform and represent them, I always thought was awesome. When you’re a fan of something your whole life, it almost seems untouchable, and it seems like something you’re able to watch from aside, but not be a part of.”
She said she believes a lot of the experience was affected by the fact that she was from Lubbock. She felt loved and appreciated by local residents, and she believes the experience would not have been the same otherwise.
People in Lubbock get behind Tech students, she said, but they also support local athletes.
“I think if I would have gone somewhere else, I wouldn’t have that,” Daniel Cordes said. “If I went to a restaurant, the grocery store, church, people would come up to me, ask what I’m doing, tell me they’re watching and following me. Little kids would come up, telling me they want to run track. I have a hard time believing it would have been that same way had I been somewhere else or if I had gone to another university.”
She said the best advice she can give to anyone is to find something that makes life worth living.
“Find something that brings you joy,” Daniel Cordes said. “If you don’t have that thing that helps you get out of the bed in the morning, it’s hard. Even if it’s something small. It doesn’t have to be being the best at something. It could be going to your favorite coffee shop or helping other people. Something that gets you excited. I think if you have that, then everything else will fall into place.”