The Year of My Alumni
Honestly, I was happy to see 2017 go. It became the year I lost my brother-in-law, a man of sparkling dry wit and many marathons, to cancer. Bright, brittle sunlight suffused the Connecticut village Town Hall where we gathered for his December memorial service. A grand-daughter teared, faltered, and could not finish her testimonial, comforted gently by her auntie. In those twelve months, now gratefully in the rear-view mirror, several fellow coaches or colleagues had medical scares-shaking us all--but all, fortunately, pulled through. Throughout those long sports seasons, both local and regional stories continued to accumulate about rude spectators and of athletes or parents making demands to what they were not entitled or for what they had not earned. And not a day went by all year without some depressing form of low-grade political behavior in our country. Dumbing down became a marker more aptly applied to politicians than athletes in workouts. Nobody's role models. This fall, the tree leaves reddened out of shame.
Pessimism, though, is a lousy antidote to anything and an abrogation of our coaching responsibilities to young adults. There's no better proof of that than through the athletes--not those currently sweating our workouts but the graduates long gone. The memories are, of course, mixed. "A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner" goes the old English proverb, and I count not a single fondly-recalled alumnus who did not at one time or another, in one fashion or another, red-line my patience meter. No athlete of consequence ever kumbaya'd his or her way through all our shared seasons. But as irony dictates, even the most contrary in that long parade of characters proved that he or she would be well prepared to battle life's idiocies beyond the high school or college years.
"T-hop," assuming youth are indestructible, rolled the dice one Sunday afternoon in a pickup basketball game almost a decade ago and ankle-twisted his way right out of a national championship relay the following weekend. But that was the same "T-hop" who set school records, who always kept things entertaining with a sharp wit and who more than once insisted after a tough practice or a good race that he was going to have my job someday. Word came before the holidays that he's engaged to be married in 2018--and since he's relocated in the Carolina's, I enjoy temporary job security.
Morgan years ago displayed the mental and physical toughness that became a program standard. She worked her way to a college national championship, graduated, coached on the college level and migrated to the west coach to marry and raise a family. I've seen the recent pictures. Her two kids are cute as buttons and will, if the genes are true, eventually give her and the husband a run for their money.
Sean has always found the time to stay in touch. A dedicated baseball'er who some years back wandered into XC to gain fitness for his other 'favorite' sport, Sean actually never left us. In fact, before graduating he added track seasons to his sports resume. After moving up to the college level to run, he'd periodically drop by a practice or a meet to check in and let me know how things were going with a sport that was no longer his second love. The last communication, though, came from his college coaches, who were all smiles as they recruited at our fall NY Cross-Country Championship mud-fest in Wayne. Sean's senior season as team captain had gone well, they said, well enough in fact to put him on a plane in a few weeks to run the D3 national championship.
Ali also dropped me a note recently as she considered her final two college running seasons. "It's hard to believe I'm already a senior in college!" she wrote. "....running has taught me how to have a strong work ethic in all that I do. I even got a 4.0 last semester! Most importantly, running has introduced me to some great people who have become some of my best friends." Knowing Ali, those new 'great people' got a good deal too.
And an interesting coincidence was recorded on December 31st. Kayla returned from a run in Brooklyn's light snow to find friends cheering and a faux finish-line tape erected across her yard fence gate. The last time I'd seen Kayla was at a miserable, rain-swept outdoor track invitational on the borders of the Tug Hill plateau where I looked up to spot an old familiar face on the track's far turn. Kayla had "just stopped over" while visiting friends in the Syracuse area.
Meanwhile, also on that last day of 2017 and miles away upstate on the same afternoon, Carly glided to a stop following her daily miles. This was the same stern, no-nonsense Carly who'd run a single senior track season for us before taking up cross-country and steeplechase in college. One afternoon that lone season, after she'd beaten a top miler in the section, I dared ask why she had put down the lacrosse stick so late in her high school career and while a success. "I was done with that," she said, nearly spitting the words. I had no further questions.
Both of them, before New Year's Eve festivities, posted on their Facebook pages.
I have the best friends. 365 days of running. It's been a journey. Thankful for everyone who has gotten me through 2017.
2,565 miles. 365 days. 15+races. 5 pairs of sneakers. 1 year of running every day. That's 2017 for you and has taught me more than I can imagine along the way. It's been quite the year and this has allowed me to make sure that I take at least 25 minutes for myself every single day. Don't forget it people, it's good to do things for yourself (as much as it is very hard for most of us). Till next year, thanks to all those that had to deal with me along the way.
Maybe there's no coincidence here.
The rest of them-former Wildcat runners--are out there somewhere, moving on and still proving they have 'the right stuff.' And so, like other coaches who understand the stock and substance of the athletes they've briefly engaged, I'm optimistic. We're not just talking good athletes. We're talking good people.