The Relationship Between Coach and Athlete

“One who goes before and shows the way. Coaches point out the sharp turns, potholes, perils, and pitfalls of the road being traveled. They steer clear of dead-end streets and unnecessary detours as they safely navigate us to our desired destinations. Whether they are leading or teaching or showing or guiding or mentoring, they are coaches. And they are indispensable in helping us find our path and purpose.” – Kevin Hall, Aspire: Discovering Your Purpose Through the Power of Words

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The relationship between my coach and I is one that means so much more than most other relationships in my life will ever mean. He holds a special place in my heart that will forever have such a deep significance that words may not adequately describe it (but I will try). I, honestly, don’t even think he knows the importance of his role in my life…

When I started cycling religiously, my life was in a very dark place and I believe I was cycling to gain meaning. I needed something to hold on to and cycling gave me an arena to feel free and happy.

I’ve known Steve for the majority of my life (his sister, Guiselle, is my best friend of 29 years) but we didn’t really socialize with each other because our only connection had really been his sister and my connection to her. From what I knew about him, he had always been athletic (running, playing basketball, and cycling) but it wasn’t really until MY journey with cycling that our friendship, and eventually him becoming my pseudo coach, began…

I knew the passion Steve had for cycling and I started reaching out to him for help with everything cycling, especially things I felt too dumb to ask other people. He answered anything I asked, despite some things probably ACTUALLY being dumb questions. He was very patient with my nonsense and began subtly giving me pointers and goals to work towards. He had become my coach inadvertently but very much on purpose at the same time.

EVERYTHING in life happens for a reason…

Early on in my cycling youth Steve crashed, and he crashed bad… He crashed, flipped his bike, landed on his back, broke the transverse process of T1, T2, and T3, and nearly shredded his Assault on Mt. Mitchell jersey. I wanted to make him feel better so I searched for the jersey online to buy him a replacement (I knew by then what an awesome feat it had been for him to ride up that mountain). Once I saw the prices of the jersey online, I retreated from that decision but declared that I would one day do Assault on Mt. Mitchell with him so that we could have the chance to get one. I’m pretty sure that my verbal filter was broken that day and that is why I even thought to utter such a ridiculous statement in the first place…

**SPOILER ALERT!! That was the moment when things started changing…

“You know the great thing, though, is that change can be so constant you don’t even feel the difference until there is one. It can be so slow that you don’t even notice that your life is better or worse, until it is. Or it can just blow you away, make you something different in an instant. It happened to me.” –from the movie Life as a House

I began riding more and more and more.

He convinced me to sign up for mountain ride after mountain ride, each harder than its predecessor finally culminating in the Assault on Mt. Mitchell (each of which I described in earlier blog posts The Journey Towards a Century Ride and The quest towards a century ride, REALIZED.).

I am not sure if he believed in me, liked having someone that faithfully gave into his torture (although I rarely did what he told me to when he told me to do it, I’m hard headed like that), or liked having someone to ride with. Whatever his reason was for helping me, this usually very quiet man took me under his wing and changed my life forever.

He gifted me cycling, and yet he gifted me so much more…

He taught me pretty much everything I know about cycling and cycling essentially save my life. Cycling gave me a purpose. Cycling gave me light and smiles again. Cycling gave me confidence. Steve pushed me and forced me to find the confident women that I had hidden for entirely too long. I am not sure if that was his intention but it was certainly what he did.

I can pinpoint moments on all the big rides I have done with him where I wanted to give up and throw in the towel and he wouldn’t let me. The weird thing is that he didn’t force me to do things or ridicule me into doing them; he just had a way about him that made me want to push just a little bit harder and NOT give up. His quiet, yet very obvious presence demanded a level of hard work from me that I am not sure I had ever doled out before. He helped me, knowingly or unknowingly, complete some of the biggest achievements of my life.

Earlier this year when I decided that I wanted to begin training for Ironman, Steve began coaching me about running. He gave me pointers on running, training, and told me what books to get. When I decided to sign up for my first half marathon in Miami, he signed up soon thereafter and, although we didn’t run together, I was able to know that somewhere on that course was my coach cheering on my finish.

His voice is a constant in my head when I am training whether it’s in the gym, in the pool, out on the bike, or out on a run. He is always there telling me what to do and the right way to do it. I am not saying that I always listen, but I certainly know how he would have me do whatever I am doing. As I mentioned before, I am a hard headed person and it often takes me a while to give in to whatever thing he wants me to do but eventually I do and I always end up with my tail between my legs admitting I was wrong and should’ve done it sooner.

I should point out here that Steve is no saintly, kind man… He can be very sarcastic, grumpy, ornery, and standoffish but the great thing about him is that once you squirm your way into his life you see past that. His way of being is what makes him unique and what made it so that he could teach me as he has done. He never spoon fed me anything and certainly never made things easy for me. But what he also did was that he never left me behind and he never gave me more than I could handle, even when I didn’t think I could handle it. He put thoughts out into the universe of what he wanted me to do knowing that eventually I would give in and do them. He saw potential that I didn’t know existed…

There will never be a way to repay the service that he has done for me so the only thing I can do is continue chasing my dreams and showing him how good I can be.

Doubt and fear enter my mind a lot when I think about the athletic feats that I want to accomplish in my life but every time “I can’t” slips into my mind, Steve saying “why can’t you” is never far behind.

This past Saturday, Steve and another friend were trying to get me to get up to go eat breakfast and we all sat there looking at my wall of race bibs and medals. Steve quietly mumbled “do you remember when there were only 2 or 3 up there? Now they don’t even fit.” I have a lot of angels that I race for and that are my constant motivation when I am out there running or cycling and, lucky for me, I have an angel right here on Earth that pushes me just as much…

On Sunday night, Steve and I were hanging out with two of our friends when they began asking us about whether we had ever “hooked up” and why we hadn’t. I tried to explain but I think that my explanation just made our friends believe me even less.

You see, we haven’t ever and we wouldn’t ever for probably a multitude of reasons. It is not to say that there hasn’t been ample opportunity for such a thing to happen, it just isn’t something that is in the cards.

We live in a society where the thought of a woman and a man being friends, especially close ones, is something that is marred by the belief that if a woman and a man are friends they must have 1. slept together in the past, 2. be sleeping with each other now, or 3. want to sleep together at some point. Lucky for everyone, I often like to go against the norms that society has created for me…

So when you hear me call him my “cycling husband,” know that I don’t mean that in the carnal sense, he is everything that is supposed to be good about a husband with none of the extra drama.

Thank you Steve for everything you have given me and all the gifts you have bestowed upon me. There is so much more that I would say but I truly can’t find the words to describe how thankful I am. No matter how many times I have read through this post, I still don’t feel like it has adequately expressed the gratitude and love that I have for everything you have done for me. You are one of the most special people in my life and, no matter how much you aggravate the hell out of me, your opinion is always one of the first that I ask for.

I look forward to crossing the finish line of Ironman Florida 70.3 on April 10, 2016, a race dedicated to you. Without your push and the faith you’ve had in me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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