The Retirement of My Cross-Country Coach
The Stork is retiring.
The man and the legend. My high school cross-country coach.
Sweet little man. Sweet man. Angry, tough, passionate, lovely man.
Love him like the dickens.
Respect him like you wouldn’t believe.
He taught me everything I know about suffering and sacrifice and payoff. I endured so much pain in his name it isn’t even funny.
We loved him as a father. We did.
For four years we went undefeated in league under his guidance. We held up that hometown pride and left our sweat on neighborhood streets. We dogged up Gagnier Hill over and over and over again and we didn’t stop running until that goddam lampost because the was the rule.
And you can believe that I’m not sitting here living in my glory days because if there is one thing that man taught me it was that you are only as good as whatever you have done today.
I can be proud of what we did as a team because, in truth, it was remarkable.
We have only ever been as good as our fifth runner and we will only ever be as good as our fifth runner. The lesson in this is all is that you have to take care of each other. You have to invest in the team. The suffering is individual and shared simultaneously.
The lesson is to move beyond that suffering and come together. You have never felt so alone and so together as you did on the boiling blacktop of an August training day.
In a shared madness we ran in heat and rain, up hills and through trails, over gnarled roots and across the brick red of a gravel track. In circles under the close watch of the stopwatch and up hills as he waited at the top, calling out encouragement from the window of an old VW van.
We were weary and The Stork as there. We questioned ourselves and The Stork was there. His faith in us was a roadmap that we followed. We tracked his love for us with unsteady fingers and we found ourselves hidden under challenge and sacrifice and unending miles. He led us to what was always there. He uncovered parts of us that we did not know existed.
He will find this overdone and grandiose.
And I’m ok with that because he was always cynical and savvy and I have loved him for both. Besides, I moved to California and so I must have gone soft.
I’ve gone soft.
I’ve always loved you so suck it up and stop blushing, you crazy, wonderful, feisty man.
Suck it up and take it.