Tuesday, January 4, 2011


sunday afternoon i was wandering about my apartment, cleaning the dishes, putting together my laundry, turning on my computer to view the upcoming week's schedule, preparing myself for a week of business school applications, consulting projects, runs and gym visits, daydreaming as always about the next thing i want to do with my life ... when the phone rang.

it was my mother, calling for the second time that day (something she never does), i just heard from a high school friend of mine that something may have happened to coach - you should call him.  where did you hear this? on facebook, she said.

facebook? of all places ... and through my mother's high school friend, no less.

thanks for telling me, i murmured, i'll call you back tomorrow.  i dropped my cleaning, stopped my daily musings on the meaning of my life, and sat down in a reverie.  coach, you see, was the first person who ever believed in me more than i ever believed in myself.  the first person who made me believe that i could be a sensation.  the only person who stood with me while he brought me there.

and i'm not the only one who can say this about him.  i can assure you that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of his runners and students over a period of four decades that this wonderful man taught and coached at thomas jefferson high school.

his students and runners have come from a variety of backgrounds over the years - from the very privileged to the most disadvantaged.  i remember hearing stories about coach picking students up in the middle of the night from the most dangerous neighborhoods in richmond, virginia, when they were in grave danger, making sure they made it to school, and of course, to cross country practice.  in his classroom, and on his team, he made a family for them, gave them goals, trained them to see their talents, and provided the support to help them realize and do whatever they wanted to complete in their lives.

i'll never forget the day that coach approached me after running an 800 meter race at some track meet in eastern virginia.  hey, is this the first time you've ever run a race?  yes sir.  well with times like that on your first race, you're going to go far.  are you running cross country in the fall?  nope i'm a field hockey player.  i suggest you rethink that.  on my team, i assure you that nationals are in your future.

who knew?  i ran track just because my buddies were doing it to get in shape that freshman spring.  i was a wirey, pallid, bookish 14 year-old, and the thought of becoming a nationally ranked athlete ...

changed me.

students who weren't on coach's team never understood the draw, the family, the obsession with one another and running that coach had created amongst his runners.  they called it a cult, and we bore the label as a badge of honor.  yes, coach had created a cult, a good cult, the kind that allows everyone to live in this world knowing and believing in their own talents, supporting one another, overcoming challenges together, proving to themselves and others their ability to reach goals, to succeed and to breeze past the finish line faster and stronger than ever.

in the backs of buses, on the cinder track, along the neighborhood sidewalks surrounding tj, amongst our throng of barekneed runners in coach's dusty classroom, engulfed in the humid air of the Arthur Ashe Center, each of us lived out our dreams and potential to the tune of his carefully crafted coaching.

his teams would beat all odds and win states, individual runners would become all-americans, students would graduate and run in the top collegiate track and cross-country teams on scholarships.  and just so you know, tj was tiny, coach was picking from a very small pool of high schoolers.  he was working with faith, goodness and pure coaching talent against all odds.

though he made each of us into champions, coach himself was the true champion.  the man is a legend, a modern day hero who has truly changed hundreds of lives.

so today, two days later, i continue to pray for a safe recovery of this man who deserves the opportunity to be here with all of us who love him dearly for as long as possible.  and through this, i've realized something very important ...

coach believed in me.  coach believed i could have everything i wanted, that i had the talent to go get it, and that with those goals and talents, i could do something world-changing and good.  enough of this thinking and wondering and deciding.  choose a goal, chart a path, and go for it.

it's time to be a little like more coach too.

for all of us.

choose what you love.  live it.  be it.  bring it to others.  help them realize their potential.  and realize your own in the process.  bring good to the world.


jeremysan said...

Pretty amazing how deeply others are weaved into who we are. I mean really, how priceless is the simple act of someone else believing in you!? So simple, but so far reaching in its effects...

Philwyatt said...

As a senior this year under Coach, I have to say I literally broke into tears reading this. I think some of us don't realize how much of a guardian angel Coach Holdren is over all of us.

K said...

Thanks for the comment, Phil - enjoy every moment your time on the team and running under coach. You'll always remember it as a really special time of your life.

Anonymous said...

i've never met you, i don't even know you (at least I don't think I do). but i know exactly what you're talking about. I was there 92-96. how lucky were we to have him as our coach? what a special time.