Coaching Diaries: Opportunities and Pumpkins
Dedicated to my Keene State College Owls
Monday, August 15th, 2016 was our first official day of preseason, marking the kickoff to a new journey ahead with my favorite surrogate family. I would be embarking on my second year coaching alongside 1500m legend and Olympian, Steve Scott, at California State University, San Marcos. I was so eager to get back to business with my team.
At 5:45 am that morning, my alarm sounded in my Oceanside apartment…for those of you that really know me (ie: my family and close friends) you know that I am NOT, and never have been, a morning person. As a little girl I would stumble downstairs with slippers and sandy eyes around 11:00 am on a weekend, just waiting for my mom to proclaim to the entire house that “She’s up! The pumpkin is up!”. By that time my neighborhood friends had already played five rounds of tag and climbed probably ten trees. And when it was my turn to call the shots while playing house with my besties…nap time was my activity of choice.
It’s not an issue of laziness either, once I am up I’m usually full speed ahead. I like to get involved in just about everything. I’d prefer to call it though, a deep appreciation for sleep. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love being swaddled in soft blankets, snuggled safely in your dreams and the one place you spend a third of your life? See, I think I was on to something, and it wasn’t until studying health science and becoming a serious athlete at Keene State College that I really learned the true benefits of sleep, which only reinforce my case.
This is how I know I have found the right profession…and I owe it all to one person who pushed me to coach. One person that wouldn’t give up on me and saw my potential. One person that I could always count on to talk about the tough stuff with and sift through my thoughts without judgement. One person that taught me how to face fear head on and shoot for the stars. That person was my college coach, Coach Pete. And my team, well they were my constant, and they meant the world to me. And looking back I probably could have done a better job at letting them know that. But having them to dream with, to freeze our faces off together on ten mile Beach Hill January runs in the snow, to chase after…those moments and footsteps were my saving grace.
They say if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life…and dang, ain’t that the truth? Suddenly that classic, yet obnoxious IPhone alarm jingle is music to my ears! While in-season, this pumpkin will gladly bolt out of bed and be laced up and ready to go in minutes. I’m jazzed before I even hit coffee phase.
I’m big on coffee too…it always warms my soul and makes me feel at home. Probably because I grew up seeing my parents enjoy a couple cups over long conversation every morning. I love coffee at local cafes, I love coffee any point in the day. But do you want to know when I love coffee the most?
Well driving down the 78 to Walnut Grove Park in San Marcos of course! It’s my second favorite part of the day.
6:15 am is about the only time you can navigate through downtown Oceanside to the highway in minutes. My front yard is literally the Pacific Ocean (I’m very blessed, I know) and at this time in the morning, there are more surfers crossing the streets than cars…eyes fixed on the swell and eager for the possibilities.
It fills my soul.
All the while, me and my dusty Toyota Highlander tool down the road, away from the coast. I feel purely stoked. Probably more stoked than the hundreds of surfer dudes crawling out of their nests. The marine layer floats above, keeping the world gray and calm, and then there is me…sipping home roasted cold brew (a new hobby, naturally) and bumping my favorite hype songs, totally blissed out to go to work and spend time with people who just want to be awesome. I wonder who else is jamming to FloRida and old school Eminem at this time?
As I drove to our first practice on Monday, I couldn’t help but replay our team party from the night before at Coach Scott’s house…
I revisit Coach’s speech on how he found running, which really resonated with me… being someone who truly believes that running and sports saved my life. A former three-time Olympian and 25 year American record holder, Steve Scott’s first love was baseball. He was recruited though by the track coach at Upland High, CA because his speed could not be ignored. That was clearly a good move.
I think it is so fascinating how life works. When you look back and connect the dots…all of the different ways your life could have gone…who you could have become…or not become by simply ignoring an opportunity.
It’s absurd and it’s beautiful.
As he spoke, gracefully commanding the attention of our team, I couldn’t help but look around at all of our fresh faces, 16 fresh faces to be exact. Wide-eyed and attentive, I wondered what on Earth was going through their heads. What were they taking away from his words?
I couldn’t help but feel the different dynamic looming in the air compared to this party last year when it was my first year with the Cougars. Last year we had a men’s team of mostly seniors and one insanely gifted senior woman who we would lose after the year. Obviously the majority of our recruiting efforts would be on the men’s side, needing to replace eight strong seniors. And we did.
Which brings us back to a room full of fresh faces, all approaching a huge chapter in their life…that was the dynamic that felt different. And different does not mean bad. In fact, as Coach spoke to them, I couldn’t help but feel total excitement inside me for their journey ahead. The amazing and bazaar intricacies of life that can bring a group of strangers together to create a team, to create magic…it inspires me.
I know I am a total sap, one of those people where everything means something. And I love thinking and questioning things, only because it makes me understand more than I would have without doing so. Writing helps me bring those thoughts to life, which is why while singing along (do not judge, I know you sing alone in your car too sometimes) to FloRida’s Wild One, a song I connect to the start of my coaching career at University of Redlands, that I came up with this idea. My idea to add a segment to my blog called “Coaching Diaries” about essentially all things, and any thing, related to my coaching and my running experience and thoughts…while adhering to NCAA Division II rules and bylaws of course!
Hey I heard you were a wild one, oooooh oooooh oooh. Jamming out, just jazzed about it all, I was rolling into our home away from home in no time. It had already been half a year since I’d been here, and I felt instantly comforted…assured of my purpose. Because you see, I wasn’t going to run in college, which always makes me wonder where my life could have taken me. Coach Scott told his story to greatness at our party, but this is mine…
At age seventeen I was unsure if I was capable of the demands of running at the next level after a few high school injuries had me sidelined, and I questioned what a “normal” college life would be like. Glamorizing it of course. But Coach Pete truly wouldn’t take no for answer once he knew I was enrolled at KSC. Before summer going into college I walked into his office to tell him loud and clear that my decision had been made…that I was done. Every eighteen year old has their life planned out and knows what’s best. This I have learned, and I was one of them.
Amidst that conversation, KSC alum and nine-time All American legend and recent graduate, Jennifer Adams strolled into Pete’s office drenched in sweat after a “fast fourteen miler” with some of the men. She was strong, she was confident…she was a track and field goddess in my opinion. Fourteen miles?! I had thought to myself. She was superhuman. After she left Pete informed me of her recent decision to pursue coaching. And about an hour later I was all signed up for cross country, indoor and outdoor track. How did he do that?!
And even so, we will find ways to sabotage ourselves…
I was training in California while staying with distant family that summer. To be completely honest, things were not going too well on the home front and life seemed to be consumed with my parent’s divorce. My mom had bought me a ticket to SoCal so I could enjoy myself away from the “muck,” if you will, before going to KSC (my hometown school). I was instantly hooked on California. Its vastness, the diversity everywhere, how you can feel so small and insignificant yet so free and larger than life at the same time. I fell so hard for the Golden State that I considered enrolling to Cal State Long Beach and replayed the hard conversation I would have to have with Coach Pete.
In the end, that just wasn’t going to be an option. I weighed the possibilities and felt going to Keene State was probably best and I trusted that decision. I still questioned my future though. Just as I was returning to my cousin’s house in Lakewood, CA, I rolled my ankle bad, and limped my way inside as it swelled up. I thought, this is just my luck, and after all of that great training too. I was so frustrated with getting in shape, my goals and dreams within in reach, and then getting injured. I was officially done this time. I called Coach Pete and broke the sad news and soon returned to New Hampshire to start my freshman year. I was already paired to room with a new girl on the team. I moved into my dorm with the rest of the “normal” freshman after missing cross-country preseason. It was all bittersweet. My would-have-been teammate and new roomie was so nice…a good student and a great runner from Connecticut with a great family.
My parents battled on through their divorce just a mile down the street from where I was awkwardly trying to fit in. It seemed that the whole town knew what was happening to my family, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it all. I reminisced on my time in California and the day I could make it back to the sanctuary I had discovered. So to make sense of things I turned to the trails that started it all just four years ago when I was a freshman on the cross-country team at Keene High.
Before class I would run. After class I would run. Lacing up and hitting my hometown trails brought me so much peace and comfort. And it wasn’t long before my wonderful roomie passed word on to Pete that I was training on my own, all of the time.
My phone rang. Pete was on the other end. He begged I join for just one run with the team, to their hill workout where I could chat with him. I changed up and met on the mat in the basement of the gym with the rest of the squad. That was their spot. There was a lot of chatter and attention drawn to me. I curled me knees into my face and kept my talk short and simple. I had missed preseason, the essential team bonding phase that contributes to the overall culture and success of your season.
We headed out for our run, I stayed right up with Pete because I felt comfortable with him at the time. The pace was fast but nothing I couldn’t handle. Then, before I knew it, I was charging up Yale hill, in front of all the guys, and only the guys. The women’s team was nowhere in sight. But to their credit they were warming up for a hard workout while I was all hopped up on newbie nerves. “I think we have our next Jennifer Adams!” A tall skinny, kid announced. Jared was one of those “big team personalities”…every team has a Jared. And Jennifer Adams was a legacy, I recalled our one encounter back in Pete’s office just months ago, just before she started coaching. I was honored to be compared to her. And in that moment, I became an Owl.
And the rest you know, well the rest is history.
So my two cents for you; trust your feet, trust your heart, and take doors when they open for you. Especially if the same door keeps opening! There just may be a destiny waiting for you that you never thought was possible.
Until next time….
Peace, love, coaching,
p.s. Thank you to Coach Pete for not giving on me and for pushing me to coach too. Now I can present open doors and possibilities to young athletes, like you did for me 🙂