Anger drove my effort
propelling me through the stretching and warmups,
giving me an energy that even I didn’t know I possessed.
Every daisy chain lap we repeated
added fuel to my fire of hatred
burning against both the coach and the sport of running itself.
After what seemed like an eternity,
Searching out the eyes of the other five,
it was plain to see
we all knew what was next…
the determination of our fate and destiny.
We once again joined up and slowly made our way over to the bench.
“Girls. Do you know why you are here?”
All of us refused to meet his eyes,
knowing that any connection
meant that he had power over us.
Inside I clenched everything I could clench
and willed myself not to cry.
“Jenny? Why are you here today?”
What? He was now asking me a personal question?!?
Who does he think he is?
I couldn’t even answer that question for myself,
let alone to a man that I hated with every fiber of my being.
So I stood
I assumed that he would move on
I heard him ask again
“Jenny. Why are you here today? Rachel, why are you here?
We all stood in silence. A team within a team.
Standing in solidarity
and refusing to break.
Time passed by
and still we stood.
Finally, just as I thought my legs were going to give out underneath me
from being locked in place for so long,
his gruff voice spoke again.
But something was different.
There was something softer,
something that made me
momentarily step out of defense mode
and catch his piercing brown eyes taking each of us in.
For fear of him noticing my gaze,
I quickly fixed my eyes back on the cinders below my feet
After a deep inhale of breath,
his words began to break the silence,
and what he said in the next few minutes
was the beginning of my love story.
Not with the coach
but with the sport of running.
“Girls. I know that right now, you are angry.
You are frustrated.
Ready to quit.
Many, if not all of you, have never ran track before.
You came out to see what it was all about
but then life got in the way.
School ended, time passed faster than expected
and you didn’t make it out the door on time.
You were late.
you already knew that.
That isn’t why you are standing here right now.
You are standing here because,
even though life got in the way
you still came. You could have chosen to stay in the locker room.
You could have chosen to call your parents to pick you up.
But you didn’t.
Each of you made the decision to push onward
and finish what you hadn’t even yet begun.
That takes strength
and that is the reason you are standing here right now.
Today, each of you showed your character,
you showed me that you don’t believe in giving up.”
The feet around me began to shuffle and before I knew it,
I was looking up
and caught his eye.
I couldn’t help myself,
it was almost as if he had heard all of my inner struggles
and yet affirmed me for the agonizing decision I had to make
not even an hour in the past.
Slowly, I felt a tear well up in my eye
and slowly trickle down my cheek
but this time
I was’t ashamed.
I knew that tear symbolized all the effort
it had taken to get me out to that very spot
and I realized that somehow
he knew it as well.
I don’t remember the rest of what coach said at that point
except that he chose the six of us
to lead the team.
We were made captains,
a group of nobodies,
that really had no business being out on the track that day.
Coach saw through that and affirmed in us
abilities that none of us would have ever discovered on our own.
Although it wasn’t always easy (I never understood the necessity of a mile warmup!)
I grew to love track that year.
Running became my outlet,
and even when I didn’t place at a meet
I knew that there was always
at least one person believing in me.
Every time I began to doubt my abilities
or my worthiness to the team,
I would replay his words in my head.
If he believed in me,
I owed it to him to at least try to believe in myself.
He gave me a purpose,
and through his leadership,
a lifelong passion of mine was born
giving me an identity which I still carry today;
I am a runner
and I really and truly
owe it all to him.