Collis Birmingham was an elite distance runner for over 13 years, experiencing success across distances from the 1500m to the half marathon. He is now a full-time running coach, working with Australia’s top elite middle and long-distance athletes, and relatively recently became a Dad for the first time to his beautiful daughter, Mila.
Becoming a father can be a daunting time for many men and one of the most significant challenges faced by modern Dads is finding the right balance between their professional and personal lives.
“I’m very lucky to have a supportive partner - it probably helps that she was herself an elite athlete, so understands the sport and what I do,” said Birmingham.
“Athletics at the highest level takes me away from home and Mila and that has been difficult. I will need to be very well planned with my trips over the next few years, so I don’t miss too much. I think my time management will be tested and re-tested when trying to balance everything,” he added.
As a former elite athlete, Birmingham has many in-built character traits that have equipped him well for fatherhood and by utilising the skills acquired throughout his years of peak athletic performance, Birmingham is naturally a positive father and influential role model to Mila.
Birmingham first represented Australia at the World Cross Country Championships as a junior in 2003 and a senior in 2007. He also competed at the inaugural Australian Youth Olympic Festival in 2001, winning a silver medal in the 3,000m.
The proud Victorian competed in the men’s 5000m at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, his first major track championship, and finished 10th in his heat and 27th overall. Four years later he again competed in the 5000m at the London 2012 Games, finishing 17th in his heat and 35th overall.
Image: Collis Birmingham competing in the 5000m at London 2012 Olypmic Games.
“Beijing was my first major championship and there was a great deal of effort spent just to get there. I was still a fair way from being consistent at that level and the main goal was to recreate the form that had got me there,” said Birmingham.
“In London it was all about running well at the Games, and about being fit and fast enough to compete against the best in the world,” he added.
Another career highlight includes an eighth-place finish at the World Cross Country Championships - an event considered among the toughest races in the world.
He was also a finalist in the World Athletics Championship 5000m and holds some impressive personal best times - including a 13.09 (5000m), 27.29 (10000m) and 60:56 (half marathon).
Now a full-time coach, Birmingham works with Australia’s top athletes at Melbourne Track Club and was appointed as a Generation ’32 Coach at the VIS in 2022.
“The VIS have been very supportive. As a coach it has been great working with a group of people who are generally interested in helping me, as well as the athletes I coach, to improve,” said Birmingham.
Gen32 is a joint initiative between the AIS, National Institute Network (NIN) partners, and National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) that provides a paid two-year apprenticeship designed to develop high performance coaches of the future.
The program caters for the modern coach with childcare support and flexible working arrangements available for coaches with children on top of their paid coaching apprenticeship.
“Our cohort of the Gen 32 program is now in its second year and has approximately 40 developing coaches like me. It is a lot like an apprenticeship, each coach has a mentor coach and is getting on-the-job training/experience,” he said.
“We have quarterly labs where the cohort will get together to work on our personal development. These labs have been great and often test us to think about where we can improve (often we are obsessed with how an athlete can improve).”
“It’s amazing how often coaches from different sports can come with the same problems or questions and walk away with solutions,” added Birmingham.
Gen32’s aim is that coaches involved in the program will transition to become Australia’s coaching leaders of the future, with many of them coaching at the Brisbane 2032 Olympic & Paralympic Games and beyond.
Like many VIS athletes past and present, Birmingham is balancing a dual career - thriving and developing as a coach while learning and relishing being a Dad. The winning habits he employed as an athlete and now as a coach are undoubtedly many of the same strategies he’s using as a Dad to raise and lead a healthy and happy family.