Dear Coach Reed,
I bought a cheesy retirement card and wrote a cheesy note inside of it last weekend for your party…but when it came time to leave it, I decided not to. I wanted to take more time and write a longer message.
As you know, the reason I joined track my senior year was two-fold: I wanted to get out of gym and I also wanted to get in shape for lacrosse. The year prior, as a junior, I had gotten cut from the varsity lacrosse team. I was the only person cut and I was really hurt by a lot of the things the coach said to me. I actually don’t think I ever told you all of this. Yes, it was true that I started playing lacrosse late–my sophomore year–so my stick skills were nowhere near as advanced as the rest of the team’s. And, yes, it was true that I was dealing with some personal issues. But she said things like, “we need to be state champions,” and, “you’re only going to bring my team down,” and, “you’re going to be toxic to my team if I bring you on.” And no matter how much I begged to be on the team, the bottom line was, “sorry, I don’t want you this year.” Those words have stuck with me forever.
She offered me a spot on the JV team, but I don’t think she thought I’d take it; being a junior on a JV team in high school was embarrassing. But I pushed my pride away, and I joined the JV team anyway, and I vowed to myself that I’d make varsity as a senior.
The JV season was great. I started every game and it was very obvious that I could have been on varsity. That coach had cut me for all the wrong reasons, and I was determined to prove her wrong. So, when senior year came around, I wanted to make sure there were no questions about my spot on that team. Joining track seemed like a no-brainer because I realized that as long as I could run and keep up with the best girls on the team, I’d be able to earn my jersey.
So I joined indoor track with you. The non-glamorous, running-through-the-halls-of-Skaneateles-High-School-because-winter-lasts-until-April, indoor track team.
As a new runner, I was instantly donned a sprinter, as most new runners are. But I was HORRIBLE at sprinting and I knew it. I wanted to be a distance runner so badly, but I had no experience, so it was never really an option…until our first meet. There were so many kids on that indoor team, I don’t even think you knew my name. We were in Manley Field House, minutes before the meet started and you looked at me and said, “look, you have the choice to run a 1500 or a 400.” You expected me to run a 400 because it would be over faster.
But I looked at you, realizing this was my opportunity to prove that I could be a distance runner, and simply said, “ok. I think I want to run a 1500.”
You looked at me like I had 8 eyeballs, but reluctantly said, “what???? really. welp…ok! let’s see how it goes.”
I knew nothing about times or paces…I didn’t even know what track flats were. But I finished the race in 5:59, and when I saw you after the race, I could see the wheels turning in your head. It wasn’t a good time by any means, but after only doing sprinter workouts for 3 weeks, you seemed impressed that I could go under 6 without much effort.
From then on, you let me run with the distance girls. I was horribly slow compared to them, but I tried to hang on by a thread on every run. I’d do the solo Saturday runs you’d prescribe and never ever skimp out on track repeats or long runs. Eventually, I was able to hang with them…and you started noticing me more and more. You were the first person to look at me and tell me I had potential as an athlete–even if my biggest strength was just that I worked my ass off every single day.
By the end of the indoor season, I had never been in such amazing shape. I was never good enough to go to invitational meets or be on any of our relay teams, but I was healthy, strong, constantly improving, and proud to be part of a team where my presence was significant. So the decision to quit lacrosse was easy. Why would I want to put myself back on a team with a coach who had been so negative and demoralizing? I knew I had been cut from that team because of personality conflicts, not because of my strength as an athlete. So, with running, I loved that the political bullshit was eliminated. Numbers are numbers. Work is work. Results are results. What you put in is what you get out.
And just like that…I committed to outdoor track and resigned myself to becoming a better runner. When you’d put me in races, I’d gut it out and try to hang with the girls on our team who had been running for years. You were impressed, and never discouraged me from doing that, so I kept working harder and harder to hang on. As the season went on, I ran closer and closer to them. I was constantly setting goals and surpassing them, and running became something that was meaningful and impactful to me.
You know…I’ve always been an underdog. I’m always the person trying to keep up…always trying to be the best…never wanting to settle for just average, but never quite talented enough to be at the top. When I started running with you, I still may have been an underdog, but I was, for the first time, an underdog with potential to keep up with the other girls who had more experience. And the only reason I believed I could keep up was because of you. Your coaching and your passion translated over to me as an athlete, and I never knew how much it would change my life until much after high school. Today, I believe anything is possible as long as you work hard enough and stay true to yourself. I’m not sure I would’ve ever had this confidence if you didn’t look at me 10 years ago after a 1500 meter race and tell me, “your days of sprinting are over…you can run distance now.”
So thank you for everything you’ve done as a coach–not just for me–but for hundreds of other people too. You were and always will be my biggest inspiration.