Coach Gard Coaches Cross Country, Teaches Faith & Family

Mattea Vecera, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

A prominent name on the Wisconsin political scene, John Gard can now be found serving the Notre Dame Academy community as head cross country coach and former parent. 

Gard started coaching in fall of 2009, during his son John Vincent’s senior year at the school. Since then, he has led the team to numerous state appearances. Most importantly, he has brought together hundreds of students to create a family-like bond through running.

“The foundation is there with the great kids and terrific families who have a lot of character and a high work ethic,” said Gard. “I believe running in cross country and in general is a life-long sport. It’s a sport that you don’t have playing time issues and a lot of kids who don’t really participate in other sports can participate in.”

He began his own running career in college, participating in cross country at UW-La Crosse. There, he majored in public administration and political science, which led him into the political scene. 

He worked in the state capital as a staffer to Wisconsin politician David Prosser before returning to Lena to run for the State Assembly in 1987, where he served from then until 2007. He also served as Speaker of the State Assembly from 2003-2007 and ran for Congress twice. However, it doesn’t look like he’ll run again. 

“I still am very active with people like Mike Gallagher who’s a dear friend, but I would never run again,” said Gard. “I loved it, it was terrific, but I’m on to a new phase of my life.” 

Now, Gard runs an organization called Wisconsin Independent Businesses with an office in Madison. He also runs a Government Relations and Public Affairs firm called Gard Business Group, with a variety of clients around the state who significantly impact the Wisconsin economy.

Gard’s wife, Cathy “Cate” Zueske, was also involved in the political scene, previously serving in the Wisconsin State Assembly, as Wisconsin State Treasurer in Governor Thompson’s cabinet, in Governor Walker’s administration, and more. She now helps with Gard’s business, is on the state’s Historical Society board, and is a part of UWGB’s Council of Trustees. 

“She’s much smarter than me and she is a very dynamic person, but everything we have done we’ve done together,” said Gard. “We have been a great team and she has as much impact on the cross country program as anybody else.” 

Faith plays a huge role in Gard’s life, which he uses to engage and inspire the cross country team and other Notre Dame Academy students. Through this dynamic, he believes the students bring him closer to God as well.

“I believe in the philosophy that we have to bring our faith into everyday life,” said Gard. “Everybody is at a different level of their relationship with God, and I try not to judge. I just say ‘Hey, let’s try to get you closer.’ If I can help, great. These kids help me. But, your faith is not something you should do for an hour on Sunday. It’s got to be everyday. I’m a sinner and I’m as imperfect as everyone else, but you just have to keep trying.”

After emphasizing the need to strengthen your relationship with God and the importance of practicing leadership skills, Gard gave one last piece of advice for the students reading this:“Be happy. Life is short; you have to be happy. You’ve got to find the joy in life. It’s really important, and a lot of people forget it before it’s too late.”