This was supposed to go up last Friday. But traveling has been making me completely crazy, so I’m posting it today.
This week’s prompt is about a teacher or mentor.
I’ve written about one favorite teacher before and can think of about at least half a dozen more I could write about (heyyyyy Mrs. Jacobs!) (my mom says my second grade teacher reads this sometimes, which is both really weird and kinda cool). But there are other types of teachers, and I can say with complete confidence that my life would look drastically different if not for my cross-country coach in high school.
See, I never really intended to be a “runner” when I was younger. Running was a means to improve in soccer, if anything, not really a sport I would ever focus on. I was competitive and loved racing, but never saw myself as having enough talent to really pursue it.
But towards the end of eighth grade my parents started dropping hints about cross country in the fall. I’m pretty sure I agreed only because it would get me in shape for soccer (this was less than a year out from the US Women’s World Cup win over China – you know, the one that ended with Brandi Chastain’s deliriously joyous celebration after the PKs – and I still harbored my own dreams of making that team one day and playing, however briefly, alongside Mia Hamm).
Practices for fall sports started a few weeks before school started and I still remember my very first practice. We gathered right outside the gym, Coach welcomed back the veterans and introduced the freshmen to the team. We ran a short warm-up as a team and the seniors led us all in stretching. The other freshmen girls and I ran another two or three miles and called it a day.
Nothing spectacular, but after just a week, I was hooked.
It wasn’t the workouts or the idea of racing or training or anything like that. It was the team – this amazing group of crazy goofballs who voluntarily spent time every day just running. This may just be a function of the sport more than anything, but there were never any egos or jerks on the team. Everyone was welcoming and encouraging and right away, I could see they were out there because they loved it. They may occasionally complain about really tough workouts (or Mill Creek Mondays), but they all did them, every single one, and found a way to have fun doing it. I was amazed at how easy it was to fall into conversation with someone I barely knew out on a long run. And it wasn’t just a group of individuals running and competing, it really was a team – the varsity teams showed up early to cheer for the JV squads, who stayed after their races to support the varsity runners.
And this was all largely because of the coach.
He was a little out there – I think at an “info session” for the team that I attended in eighth grade, one of the top varsity runners said “Yeah, Coach is kinda nuts, but it’s a lot of fun.” (While Coach was standing right next to him.)
He had his own sense of humor and rambling, roundabout way of making a point when he was explaining race tactics or ways different runners reacted when hitting “the wall” (there was a diagram and everything for that one).
He started practicing yoga (because of a new girlfriend) my sophomore year and occasionally tried to lead us through yoga sessions after practice.
He made us watch clips of Forrest Gump and Fifth Element the days before meets to motivate us.
He always preached that running is an “honest sport,” saying if you do the work, you will get better – implying it was up to us, not him, to do the work.
He understood that not everyone was meant to be an elite runner, either because talent or mentality stopped them, and was willing and able to work with every type of runner that come through that team. The top varsity runners who were gunning to compete at the state meet loved running for him just as much as the slowest freshman who was thrilled to break a nine-minute mile. He pushed you if you wanted to be pushed and encouraged you if you just wanted to show up and run.
He wanted the team to do well (and beat James Logan High) but knew we were just kids and for the most part, cultivating a lifelong habit and love of the sport in as many of us as possible seemed to be the ultimate goal.
His style was laid-back, but he observed and noticed so much more than any of us knew – studying our form and watching the different dynamics develop throughout the team. Most of my favorite memories from high school involve the cross country or track teams, and I probably wouldn’t have any of them if not for Coach.