One of the wonderful things about blogging is the connections made. I can’t remember exactly how or when I met Nicole, but I think we probably first connected from our love for running. However, while our friendship may have been forged over running, it’s become so much more.
Not too long ago, Nicole and I were talking about the coaches from our past. We both have some fond memories.
A great coach has the ability to motivate and inspire…he (or she) truly makes a difference in his athletes’ lives.
Nicole and I have both had one of those coaches in our lives…we were lucky. Blessed, you might say.
Today I am honored to have my good friend Nicole from Work in Sweats Mama joining me on my blog to talk about the coach that left an amazing impact on her life.
I wasn’t always a runner.
I spent my tweens and early teens in the pool, swimming for a year-round team. I bled blue for my beloved Stingrays.
Years of triple duty – swimming for the Stingrays, summer league, and Varsity – left me waterlogged and worn out. It’s no wonder I succumbed to shoulder injury after my freshman year.
After months of physical therapy, my swimming career officially ended the day my orthopedist scheduled surgery.
My heart broke. My parents wisely suggested I try something else.
How about cross-country?
I’d never run more than a mile at a time. A 5K felt like a death march. Breathing fire, juggling knives, and unicycling – at the same time – sounded more feasible.
My 15-year-old self never imagined I’d run marathons someday.
I met Coach R. at open house, and she encouraged me to give running a chance.
Me, run? I belonged in Speedos, not Nikes.
But swimming was no longer an option, so I showed up for my first practice on a broiling August evening. I rolled down the waistband of my cotton cheer shorts and laced up my shoes.
Our goal: run for 30 straight minutes.
I don’t remember how long it took, but Georgia’s brutal heat and humidity reduced me to a walking, sobbing mess. I longed for laps in a cool pool; instead, sweat and tears streamed down my flustered face.
I wanted to quit, but Coach R. ran beside me and cheered me on. She believed in me. Her reassurance was all I needed.
Coach R. was a beautiful runner, light on her feet and smooth in her stride. In three seasons, she ran by my side more times than I could count.
She saw something in me.
She finished long runs with me, gradually picking up the pace so I’d finish strong. On track days, Coach R. forced me to work harder by grouping me with the boys.
She never allowed me to settle.
My junior year, Coach R. led a team of nothing but underclassmen to the county championship. She devised creative workouts. She arranged a training trip to Florida, planned pizza parties in the park, and celebrated our accomplishments together.
She did it while she raised two young daughters. She did it while she taught full-time.
And she did it all with grace, patience, and love.
Coach R. was in her thirties when she coached me. With dark hair and a fit frame, she looked much younger.
People would see us running together, ponytails bobbing in unison, and ask if we were related. I was beyond flattered.
I looked up to her. I admired her.
Coach R. passed away last January, after a hard-fought battle with lung cancer. She was 49. She left behind a husband, two grown daughters, one young daughter, and a grandchild.
I lost touch with Coach R. after graduation. When I learned of her illness, I wrote her a long letter. She liked to hear from former students and athletes.
What do you say to someone who’s dying?
I told Coach R. how I rediscovered my love for running after I married my high school sweetheart (whom she also coached). I wrote about marathons. I told her about my girls.
But mostly, I told her thank you. I wish I’d told her sooner.
She inspired me in ways I couldn’t comprehend at 15 but truly appreciate as an adult and parent. She gave me a gift that carries me through the best and worst times of my life.
Now a mother, I know how she felt about her daughters. She wanted nothing but the best for them. She wanted endless opportunities and possibilities for them.
If moments and memories were measured on a scale, she wanted the smiles and laughter to outweigh the tears and heartbreak.
I know everything she did for me. I know she poured infinitely more love and devotion into her daughters. They will carry her love with them always. And through them, her legacy as a woman, wife, and mother will live on.
It lives in me, too. Because of her, I am a runner. Because of the lessons she taught me, I like to think I’m a better mother, too.
Thank you, Coach R. It was an honor to run by your side.
Is there a coach, teacher, or role model who’s had an impact on your life? Did you realize it at the time? Have you thanked them?
Nicole Goodman is a full-time working mother of two and the caffeine-driven mind behind Work in Sweats Mama. After business hours, you’ll find her chasing her fearless 21-month-old, verbally sparring with her precocious four-year-old, avoiding housework, seeking an endorphin high on long runs, and slurping down gigantic fountain Cokes.