Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Life (post-coaching)

It was weird being there. The venue was lovely, the tables set simply with poinsettias surrounded by flickering tea lights. Parents mingled, team members clustered together reveling in inside jokes, and coaches worked hard at getting the necessary technology to cooperate.

Acknowledgements were made of the successful season, highlights and challenges scripted for the audience. The tradition of awarding each runner a frame-worthy certificate for a unique quality or incident was again a crowd-pleasing event.

It was my sixth cross country banquet in as many years. But it was different this year. Very
different. I was merely an invited guest watching from the periphery, not the head coach as in past years. I felt distant, out of place, irrelevant.

I enjoyed those years of coaching, totally and thoroughly. Was it exhausting? Yes. Were the hours long and the pay short? Yes. Did planning, scheming, and scheduling pervade every nook and cranny of my life? Affirmative. Did I go to bed thinking about training progressions and wake up thinking about the same? Did I spend hours trying to figure out how to best serve each individual? Yes and yes. Was I concerned as much about the heart of the athlete as I was about their speed? Yes, I can honesty say I was. Did every practice, whether easy or breath-taking, have purpose? Yes. Was that difficult to do? Absolutely yes. Did I love all the shenanigans, so vital to the essence of our team, and special times spent in the
big mountains and the mud? You bet! Do I miss all of this now that I'm not coaching? Yes! Or maybe I mean no. Coaching was anything but easy. So, I don't know. Maybe it's a little bit of both.

Certainly, life circumstances make it logistically impossible to coach in my present situation. But I feel a little lost, a little displaced. When I was coaching, I felt as though I had impact on my team (and hope it was largely positive). To be honest, now I feel rather useless, like ornamental parsley on a dinner plate. Gone are the day-to-day relationships I cherished and thrill of seeing kids find fun in the run, many launching their journeys into life-long running. Perhaps my nickname should be abbreviated from "Coach T" to simply "T"; the coach part no longer applies.

So, who am I? What is my worth, my purpose? I've been here before, a bit confused about my station in life. When I left after nearly 25 years as a cardiovascular perfusionist, it was like cutting off an arm. I loved that life and was well-respected and good at what I did. But when the operating door shut behind me for the last time, I felt like my life-blood had poured out onto the floor and washed down the drain. It took a while for a new identity to take hold. Now I am at the same crossroad; the need to re-evaluate and re-organize is upon me.

I am a Christian wife and mother. That has not changed. God wired me as an athlete who continues to train and compete. That has not changed. But I can longer call myself a day-in, day-out teacher of students. I can no longer list "coach" on my resume. That last one hurts the most.

I admire coaches. I understand the mission and ministry a great coach can have to their athletes. Now working within the context of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), I suppose that's why it is my deepest pleasure and desire to support, encourage, and give coaches the tools they need to become even stronger in their roles. But in doing so, I am a little jealous because I can no longer speak from current experience.

Life is about choices and I am confident in the choices I have made. Perhaps I am simply trying to sort out the wide range of emotions now that I am not the leader of the pack; now that I have no team to call my own.

So it was with the greatest joy (and surprise) that I scanned the letters penned on colorful construction paper. "My" team - more accurately, the team I coached for the last five years, through the summer heat, and through the pre-season training this year - took the time to write notes to me back in September. Chris, the coach who stepped up to run in my shoes, graced me with these letters a few days following the banquet. I really needed that and am forever thankful.

Thank you, kids, for loving me through thick and thin. Thank you for being such a great team. Thank you for granting me the privilege to coach. You will always have a very special place in my heart.

Run silent, run deep. Run long, run strong.

Banquet pictures taken by Heather Hu.

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