We walked shoulder to shoulder, noticing the morning sun streaming through the tree branches, the birds singing, all while we reminisced over the highlights of the last ten years.
Our state championship, certain athletes that impacted us and the team at the time, ways our lives have changed since we first met in August of 2008.
Let’s take a step back, to summer 2008. I am running loops in Curtis Prairie when I notice a man walking the trails with an old measuring wheel. It reminded me of my high school coach and how he would meticulously measure our routes with a wheel just like that.
This older man eventually made his way to the parking lot where I was cooling off. He asked me a series of rapid-fire questions and I honestly was not sure whether to be curious or get the hell out of there!
Thankfully, curiosity won. He rummaged through his trunk and pulled out a sheet of paper. He was looking to hire an assistant coach for the girls cross country team at a local high school.
Now I was 50% curious and 50% scared. Should I try this? Would work let me do this?
One week later, I had the stamp of approval from senior management and I was going to be a coach.
That first year I was nervous pretty much all the time! I wasn’t comfortable addressing the group, and even leading ab workouts up in the balcony overlooking the gym was stressful to me. Thankfully, there was a particular athlete that year who I connected with immediately. As my bonds with the girls grew, so did my confidence.
The growth from year to year made leadership feel natural to me, even enjoyable.
The best compliment I ever received during my years as an assistant coach came from a parent, in the high school parking lot after our awards night. He turned to me, and with a heartfelt expression on his usually serious face, has said ‘Thanks for all you’ve done for my daughters. You’ve made my job as a parent so much easier.’ It was dark out, but I think I could see the faint outline of tears welling in his eyes.
This morning I took a walk with that man that approached me in the Arboretum almost ten years ago. Walking down memory lane with Gary warmed my heart and helped me truly appreciate the connections that have transformed my life because of him.
You never know when the right person will enter your life at the exact right time and end up changing everything. If I would have run somewhere different, or been 30 minutes later that interaction never would have happened.
Thank you Gary Thornton for taking a chance on a quiet, 30 year old runner in a pink t-shirt in the woods. You changed everything for me.