Woodwards XC

The Woodwards gather together outside their home for a family photo in December 2019. From left to right: Owen, Mark, Liam and Leigh. The Woodwards are moving to Kuwait later this year, after both Mark and Leigh accepted teaching positions at the American International School of Kuwait. Photo by Brooke Ratzat

Leigh and Mark Woodward always thought they’d teach internationally again.

It was something they enjoyed before, and always appreciated the opportunity it presented in seeing the world.

Before moving to Ketchikan — a little more than 10 years ago, when their youngest child, Liam, was just 3 weeks old — both Leigh and Mark taught in Monterrey, Mexico.

But then positions at Ketchikan High School opened up, and the family of four — with Liam and three-and-a-half-year-old Owen — packed up their belongings and moved to the First City.

“We always kind of thought, ‘We’ll go international again at some point,’” Leigh Woodward said. “And you wake up and you blink, and it’s 10 years later. It was really always part of the plan, but we kind of forgot about it. You know what I mean? It was on hold or on the back burner.”

But fast forward a decade later, and that internal fire has been lit again.

It’s not on the back burner anymore. A big move is front and center.

The Woodwards are moving to Kuwait, and will teach at the American International School next fall. Both Leigh and Mark accepted positions earlier this year.

“It maybe seems like a strange place,” Leigh Woodward said. “But it really is a hub in its spot in Asia Minor. Gas is cheap there, so airline flights are cheap there. So we’re just like, ‘Well, you know, we’ll just use it as a hub.’ We haven’t really explored much in Asia, at all.”

Traveling far and wide

The Woodwards ended 2019 with a family trip to Kenya. Mark Woodward’s brother, Matthew, is the elementary school principal at the International School of Kenya. And the Woodwards went to visit him and his family over Christmas.

“We were just hanging out with all of these expat teachers, and ... just one thing led to another,” Leigh Woodward said.

That started the ball rolling.

“We went to a job fair in February, or very end of January,” she continuned. “... And we went there kind of with the idea of, ‘Yeah, we might sign a contract.’”

And Kuwait caught their eye.

“We’re thrilled,” Leigh Woodward said.

Since then, however, the novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, and has put any future plans in a wait-and-see mode.

The Woodwards were originally planning on moving to Kuwait in August.

“It’s weird to announce something like this in the middle of this global pandemic,” she said. “It could be that we end up starting the year from here. Because they’re online right now, like most schools are. So we’re not sure when we’ll physically move there, yet. ... It still might be (August). But ... who knows with COVID.”

Kuwait is 11 hours ahead of Ketchikan, and teaching from nearly half a world away would have its own set of issues.

“Yeah, that’d be weird,” Leigh Woodward said. “We’d have to do it. But it’d just be an interesting thing. We’ll see. ... I don’t think any of us teachers want to be 100% online. It’s really different. ... All the things you used to do, they’re gone. So you just have to reinvent.”

A family adventure

Both Owen and Liam Woodward are growing up fast these days.

Owen Woodward is finishing his freshman year in high school and will be a sophomore next fall, and Liam Woodward is 11 years old, now.

The two brothers — although worried at first — are now looking forward to the family’s new home.

“They were a little freaked out at first, when we told them,” Leigh Woodward said. “They saw it coming, I guess, since we had all traveled together to Africa this (past) Christmas. But they’re totally on board.

“... We need to have a couple more adventures with our kids before they go off on their own,” she continued. “It’s quick. It all goes quick.”

That, it certainly does.

With two-year contracts already signed, the Woodwards are hoping to stay in Kuwait, at least until Owen Woodward graduates high school.

And then — who knows.

By that time, Liam Woodward — that same 3-week old baby in Mexico — will be entering high school.

“Do we want to come back (to Ketchikan)? Do we want to go to another international school? We’ll just see,” Leigh Woodward said. “... I feel like we’ll be back. This is our home, and we think we’ll probably teach overseas for a few years, and then hopefully come back and settle back down.”

One foot in front of the other

Since returning back to Kayhi — the same school she graduated from — Leigh Woodward has been a regular with the high school’s cross country team.

When the Woodwards moved to the First City from Mexico, Dan Ortiz was the head coach, and Woodward assisted him. After Ortiz retired, Woodward filled in the shoes of head coach — and has every day since.

A decade later, Woodward is now passing that baton on to Katie Sivertsen. A friend of Leigh Woodward’s — and regular in Ketchikan’s running community — Sivertsen accepted the head coaching position on Monday.

But after all those years of running around Ward Lake with a group of teenagers, Woodward will remember the connections she had with each team, and conversations with them the most.

“The best thing is all the relationships you have with kids,” she said. “You’re pounding the pavement with them and you’re running with them, and you’re having conversations that you don’t get to have in the classroom.”

She still hears from former students, and how much they’ve continued to enjoy running. And Woodward will continue to hit the ground running, as well.

“It’s so easy,” she said. “You put your shoes on and go outside.”

Leigh Woodward will continue putting one foot in front of the other. Who knows how far she’ll go.

It might even be halfway around the world.

“We’re here all summer,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll (still) do some running.”