Recently I attended a workshop put on by Hardy Girls Healthy Women. This is a Maine-based organization which has a vision that "All girls and women experience equality, independence and safety in their everyday lives." It's sad, and absolutely true, that these rights or qualities don't naturally occur for many.
During one exercise in the program, participants were asked to think about someone in their life who had been most influential in providing or helping one to gain these strengths - a sense of equality, independence and safety. Basically, we were asked to remember someone we considered a mentor or guide.
This was an easy exercise for me. It was during my first year of high school, which back then was tenth grade, that I met Coach Judy Schoonover. I tried out for the basketball team after a fall season of watching girls field hockey and boys soccer and football. (I never watched running, by the way, if there even was a cross-country team!) I made the varsity basketball team, which shocked me, and it was the beginning of a three-year relationship that I believe saved my life. 'Schoonie', as she was called, also coached the lacrosse program in the spring, where I found my true love.
I realize it sounds dramatic to say that a peripheral and part-time relationship can have so much impact, especially when it was likely one-sided. But what I received were things that were missing elsewhere in my life and, that I needed to thrive: I was noticed and validated. I was guided and assisted to be successful in areas I had become passionate about. I was allowed and encouraged to excel. I was recognized and awarded for my accomplishments. I felt like I was being taken care of, and in large part, the relationship and experiences served to form my identity as a capable, athletic, winning person. I will never forget how she intervened in my life in an extremely subtle way.
The relationship I had with my collegiate lacrosse coach, Pamela Hixon, was built on an equal level of respect as that I had for Schoonie, but did not feel as integral and life-altering. I suppose that's on account of it being during my late teens early twenties versus my formative years. I played Division I women's lacrosse on a nationally ranked team for a highly rated coach and it was an awesome experience. Again, I felt guided and supported, encouraged to succeed and proud of our accomplishments. That time of life stays with me like a feather in my cap.
Today, I continue to work with a coach in my chosen sport of running. I have actually been affiliated with Coach Ziggy Gillespie for nearly 18 years, ever since moving to Maine and deciding to focus on running and racing. Ziggy has been in the game for a long time. The team I joined was his highly successful "Run to Win Ladies Team." I remember when I was first on the running scene in Portland I saw women in race uniforms that were part of Ziggy's team. Joining a running team was never anything I thought about, and frankly, it was probably fairly unique in 1990. But I joined, and I'm still joined, only now it's called Nor'Easter Run.
He also coached Saint Joseph's College Men's XC coach from 1981-1987, winning four New England Championship teams and where he was named Coach of the Year three times. Ziggy presently coaches Waynflete School's Varsity XC, the Maine State Class C Girls XC Champions in 2007 and 2008. He was inducted to the Maine Running Hall of Fame in 1996.
Working with a coach and a team has enabled me to improve my running to that comparable competitive level as I experienced as part of the women's lacrosse team at the University of Massachusetts. I get to be part of a successful winning group that brings out the best in me. I have been able to achieve my running bests, and continue to improve in the face of age. I have been so inspired by running that I started a business founded around the benefits of running and have become a running coach myself.
Last weekend I competed in a neighborhood 5K as a precursor to the upcoming Portland Sea Dogs Mother's Day 5K. I felt nervous as usual, and slept poorly as usual the night before. Despite my own tentativeness, I raced well and finished strong. But I believe a deciding factor was the COACHING.
Ziggy was there at 7:30 a.m. for a 9:00 start. He previewed the course with us beforehand to get a lay of the land and to suggest strategic portions of the route. He led the race in his vehicle to provide the first mile time split to all who passed. He coached me and encouraged me when I went by and said he knew I could do it. He went by in his car during the third mile screaming my time, coaching me on my form. During the last stretch he informed me I could break 19 minutes and helped me to stay focused and determined. And he wasn't put off to hug me and slap my back in my sweaty post-race glory.
My good day at the race was about his coaching. Thanks, Ziggy.
I suppose all coaches hope to make a difference in at least one person's life. I know this is true for me. Coaching is a fairly new endeavor for me and I have a lot to learn. One thing for certain which I've learned from those most influential people in my life is that I can do just about anything I want if I put my mind to it, practice it, and persevere.