Rose jumped into the scene in middle school. Now a sophomore. We watched her run today at the area meet in far away Denver City. Good grief? When moving to far West Texas, I had no earthly idea I would have kids in the Athletics program at the public school here. Let alone how many miles they would cover, by their own minimally-soled feet, and by the school buses, as they covered practices and run club and cross country and track meets.
My one season of high school track consisted of a somewhat overweight coach yelling at us to "Just go run! Do those hills!"
I pretty much always came in second to last. Choir and yearbook were pretty much more my speed.
Our homeschool physical education program was directed by my late husband. He loved to run. He found an old Navy Seals exercise book at a Goodwill in town. Led the motley crew through their calisthenics by the back door on the milking pad after morning chores, then across the back field, over a felled tree, up and over a fence, down the hay meadow, over and around the barn, finally to the house, huffing and puffing and ready, well, somewhat ready, to hit the books.
Who would have guessed? The day we moved in, a couple of running neighbors saw the kids pile out and suggested we contact Rick Keith, the high school long distance running coach. I guess the kids contacted him.
The rest is history.
That man has been more than a coach to my kids. They have probably spent more waking hours with him than with me the past five years. He explained to me that his philosophy involved teaching kids to enjoy running for life. Not just a high school competitive sport, but a lifestyle. He would drive them to gorgeous ranch roads for high desert sunset runs. He would run with them to Dairy Queen for Sundae runs. He would buy them shoes, probably knowing they were well beyond a single mom's budget. He taught them how to glide and not injure their knees. To run for themselves, to compete against their times, to set reasonable, achievable goals, and then coach them, step by step, week by week, in the how to reach those goals, just a bit more challenging than they thought they could reach. And sure enough. Walked them step by step, rather, ran with them, stride by stride, along the way.
For the past five years, that man has encouraged, cheered, consoled, scolded, taught, and more than anything else, has loved my kids.
He doesn't drive alongside, yelling at the kids to run. He works right by them, teaching them nutrition, giving them books, showing them inspiring videos, basically, has been as spiritual a leader as any priest.
College kids still come home to run with him on their vacation. And love to brag on the runs they do for fun, as they run for their life! Yesterday Maggie was so stressed by her rigorous course work at St. Edwards and her jobs that she paused to take a ten mile run. The other day, Patrick joined the UT cross country run club and they ran from Austin to San Jacinto, all night long, 200 miles, for the Texas Independence Relay. They and Rose ran in the Big Bend Ultra 30k this winter.
And now, Rose, a sophomore, after making it to state twice in cross country and so far once in track, ran again in the area meet today. I decided to close the bakery and go to watch her run, all the way up in the Texas panhandle. She got first place in the two mile. Her friend was right behind her. Watching those kids run fills my heart with such joy and delight. I remember seeing Maggie conquer exercise induced asthma, striving harder than any kid should have to, training her, not for athletics, but for the real life hard stuff that requires some grit. Some go for it. Some push and drive.
You have to understand... I don't really care about athletics. Or competitions. I yell for pretty much every kid that runs along that track or across the finish line. Just ask my poor embarrassed kids!
It is the back story. The farm. The wet tennis shoes and panting kids and dad. A journey. A coach who is so much more than a coach. I will owe him my whole life through. And thank God for him regularly, as I see his fingerprints all over the lives of my kids as they fly away from here. And continue to see his gift as he offers up his presence. What more does a young, tender, growing teenage girl need if her dad dies? A young man, missing philosophical discussions and hikes? What more than a kind, devoted, dedicated, hard working man who not only believes in her, or him, but runs alongside, giving strategies for making a way into the world that awaits.
I am not sure how Rose did in the one mile this evening. I have to work tomorrow, and was afraid I would be too tired to do so if I stayed for the final event and had to get home by one oclock tonight. I know she loves the two mile and I cheered like a crazy fool. Coach Keith will be riding home with them on the bus, late and exhausted after a full day in the sun, directing his kids. And will be back at school in the morning to teach.
I don't care how she did. I am proud. And thankful.
So very thankful.