I grew up attending a small Catholic elementary school in town of Endicott, NY, knowing the same 15 other girls and 8 boys since kindergarten. Because our school was so small, we only had CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports leagues and then a Modified league in which it joined up with the other 3 local Catholic schools to combine to one team under the local Catholic high school, Seton Catholic Central. In 8th grade, the idea of meeting other kids from the local Catholic schools was exciting and yet terrifying. I was an awkward individual. I had started to lose some of my baby fat, my braces that had been on F-O-R-E-V-E-R were finally coming off, and I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. When you see the same people every single year for 9 years, the idea of meeting new friends is extremely appealing. Although small, my school had cliques and social classes like any other public school.
Under the thought process that “sports gave you structure” imbedded into me by my father, I decided to join the Modified Track team. Not being the star athlete like my brother, I decided to pick a sport where I didn’t feel the pressures of not being in the sport since I was in diapers. Track seemed like a simple sport…or so I had thought.
The new coach at the time (let’s call her Coach M.) expected a lot out of us. Already a veteran marathon runner who knew the ins and outs of running, she wanted champions. I had wanted fun. It was soon apparent that those who didn’t win her approval or had the immediate talents would soon lose favor and fall into the sidelines.
As a 13 year old on the brink of puberty, I was that awkward, slightly chubby girl who wanted to find something I was good at. It was clear I was not a fast runner, but Coach M. didn’t take the time to figure out why. Parents, I can’t tell you how significant that spring season sticks with me to this day. I remember being told that I wasn’t fast because I wasn’t trying enough. I remember running up and down the dreaded Denton Hill, told to run until I puked in order to win her praise and try harder. I remember crying to my mom because Coach M. would congratulate and rave about her “prized athletes”, but would ignore the trials of the misfits who tried their hardest but didn’t earn a medal. With a cool ease after one track meet, she looked at me and said “Some people aren’t runners.”
With history of exaggeration, my parents would ask me if I was being to hard on myself, or if I had oversaw Coach M’s praises. I had started to doubt myself, thus becoming insecure with my gut instinct, feelings, and my own athleticism. I stopped trying, and with that track stopped being fun. Losing the favor of the Coach also meant losing the favor of the star athletes. Those that won races were perceived as cool, while those that didn’t were not doing their part with the team.
When I write this article, it’s not to whine about not being good enough or to get past inner demons. It wasn’t about the cliques or about losing potential friendships because I couldn’t run fast enough. The experience was traumatizing because one adult had our high school fates in her hands, and she chose to reward the talented and forget the misfits. She set up our high school class hierarchy before we even had a chance to choose. As an impressionable 13 year old, being told I wasn’t good enough by an adult who we were taught to respect and listen to their authority was defeating.
I remember standing at the rewards banquet after the season, where everyone received rewards. Usually, I am a believer that not everyone should get an award. However, in our politically correct Catholic league, everyone received a certificate, with the exception of yours truly. Coach M had forgotten to print one off for me. I remember the embarrassment of standing there in front of our parents listening to Coach M. highlight everyone’s talents but my own. I remember the look on my mom’s face when she realized I not only was the only one who didn’t receive a certificate on a team of thirty plus students, but that maybe my insecurities were true. I remember holding back tears and turning red as I stood there stupidly as my name was overlooked. Most of all, I remember Coach M’s casual shrug and quick apology after the ceremony upon my mom’s request due to the fact that the reward was forgotten.
I carried those insecurities with me throughout high school. Not believing I was good enough to try a sport, I stuck to education and sports I had previously tried. I had accepted being average or “good enough” to participate. My running shoes were put away with those memories mentally tucked away instead of reliving my failures.
Eight years later, a new friend in New York City asked me if I wanted to run a 5K with her. Starting a new life in a new city, I had thought “Why not?” My running shoes had been put up long enough. With each step of running with a new friend, I began to gain my running confidence back. The baggage of the past was becoming lighter with every mile.
One 5K turned into a 10K, which turned into a half-marathon, then several half-marathons, and finally training for the New York City Marathon. My internal revenge is knowing that what Coach M. had said to me didn’t stick forever. Running soon became my own therapy, and I was fastly addicted to a sport that I had given up long ago. She didn’t defeat me. If she had taken the time to invest in me as a runner and suggest long distance running, maybe I would have been one of those “star athletes”. Or, maybe I wouldn’t have been. What matters most is that she didn’t try.
Coaches, take the time to invest in each and every kid you come into contact with. You never know who can be a diamond in the rough. Whether a smile, a good job, or forgetting their certificate at a ceremony, your actions and your words have weight and do not go forgotten. Because of you, they could hang up their running shoes for years because of a single sentence or push to become something they’re proud of. You decide.