Friday, October 10, 2014

An Ode to Coaches

Since it’s officially fall, I can confidently say that summer 2014 will go down in the books as the summer in which my triathlon season did not go according to (my) plans.  At the risk of stating the painfully obvious: I didn’t have a 2014 triathlon season. I could tell you about how I lost an entire season because I blew my nose too much, reinjured my round window membrane, struggled through debilitating imbalance and motion intolerance, experienced disturbing hearing changes, and raked up a wonderful sum of medical bills, but I’ll spare you the details.

Instead, in light of recently starting with a new coach, I have done a lot of thinking about my past coaches. I have come to better recognize the significant contributions of these individuals to my development as an athlete and a person. Nothing I can ever say or do will be able to fully express the gratitude I feel towards these individuals for their role in my life. If you are one of these people and are reading my blog - thank you.

Jim Callahan first coached me at the age of six-ish at Brookside Country Club. I spent my summers swimming there and winning year-end awards like “pacemaker award” and “coaches award” because I worked hard but was never good enough to get MVP. Jim is therefore my longest running coach, as he was also my high school coach and post-high school Masters coach when I’m back in Worthington. Jim wakes up before 5:00 am every day all winter in order to swim, often alone, because he loves swimming. To this day, my very best athletic memories are watching the summer sunrises from the Brookside pool as I swam alongside Jim’s group of masters’ swimmers. Jim taught me how to love my sport.

A lot of people don’t know – or forget – that I grew up playing tennis. I still think that tennis was probably the best outlet for my love of competition because it’s a relentless one-on-one mental battle with your opponent.  My coaches Brian Heil and Sara White Quart taught me how to read an opponent’s weaknesses and how to use my strengths to strategically exploit them. They taught me how to remain calm and even-keeled whether I was winning or losing and how to manipulate the pace of play to my advantage. I beat a lot of girls who were better than me because I out-competed them. As a high school junior, I got a letter of apology from a player who had grown so angry at my tactical play that she cursed me out. Several times. Brian and White-y taught me how to be a competitor.

I still remember the fateful night in July 2007 when Steve Taylor called me at 8:30pm asking me to join the cross country team at the University of Richmond, where I would be starting as a freshman the following month. I was already in bed, as I was getting up the next morning to swim with Jim. I ran all four years under Lori and Steve Taylor. I think they were the first coaches to really see athletic potential in me beyond anything I could imagine. With Lori, I laughed and I cried, I weathered the highs and the lows of college, and I grew into an adult. I gained an ability to focus on workouts with a new level of intensity and learned to consistently hit times in practice regardless of what was happening in my life outside the track. The Taylors taught me how to be an elite athlete.

Michael Harlow was my first triathlon coach. It was under his guidance that I learned how to properly structure a workout week that balanced the three sports. He navigated with me the transition from college athlete with a daily team practice to pharmacy school athlete training alone in the middle of winter. I made my transition to racing at the professional level under Michael, and he made me believe that I could actually compete with the best in big races. And through all of that, he became to me a friend, a mentor, and a Brother in Christ. Michael taught me how to be a professional triathlete.

When Michael transitioned away from day-to-day coaching, I felt as though the loss of my coach added insult to my summer of injury. I went through my life-changes playlist, blasting “my world is changing/it’s rearranging”; “and I can’t really tell you what I’m going to do”; “life’s about changing/nothing ever stays the same”. Then, something great happened. I remembered another song that mentions change. “I keep on thinking things will never change/keep on thinking things will never be the same”. Yes, I actually watched Vitamin C’s “Graduation” music video. I didn’t stop there, either. My throwback to the 2000s ultimately left me home alone, blasting, at full volume, “it’s my life before me/got this feeling that I can’t go back/Life goes on”. And that, folks, is when I finally started laughing. Hard. And I knew that it was time to start the transition to a new coach. But that’s a blog post for another day (spoiler alert: he’s awesome).

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