Cross Country Saved My Life

I know, I know. It sounds so melodramatic. 

It’s true though. I’ve written before about my Jr. High Cross Country Coach being the first adult to tell me that my life could be different, and that I didn’t have to live the same life as the adults I was surrounded by. Coach B was the first adult to push me to look beyond what I had always known and embrace all that I could be. 

I haven’t written at length about my High School Cross Country experience. Many people think that I am so vulnerable with this blog, talking about difficult experiences so openly, but there are many things I don’t give details about. There are things happening in my little hometown regarding Cross Country and Track that have prompted me to finally share just how significant Cross Country was for me. 

How Cross Country saved me. 

How Coach K saved me. 

Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at a fundraising banquet for JFive Ministries. JFive is a local sex trafficking organization based here in my little hometown. I speak publicly quite often, but this one was different. This time, I was sharing a story that I had never shared publicly before. In fact, prior to that JFive event, I had only told a handful of people about this experience. 

I’m not even sure Coach K. knows exactly what was happening when he intervened. 

When I was 15, I was trafficked. I went through a breakup with my first ever boyfriend and I was devastated. I was vulnerable, for the first time in my memory… and for the last time in a very, very long time. I turned to an adult that I should have been able to trust and that adult drugged me. That adult told me that I was being given medication that was similar to taking tylenol and benadryl mixed together- that it would help my headache and help me rest. I was in and out of consciousness for at least a week as a result of the vicodin I was then given regularly, around the clock. I don’t know how many men had access to my body, although I remember one distinctly because I knew him. I heard the conversation about drug debt. I will never forget the weight of his body over mine when I was so weak that I couldn’t even really hold myself upright. 

I don’t know how long I was there. I do know that Coach K.  is the reason I got out. 

You see, Coaches have a unique point of view with their athletes. They see into the lives of their athletes in a way that many others do not. They see their families, their homes and their environments. They know who shows up and who doesn’t. They know who gets them to and from practice, who makes sure they get water and shoes and who just pops by the games to offer the appearance of parental support. They have a closer view of bruises, malnourishment, poverty, support and needs. They have a unique and specific opportunity to speak into the lives of their athletes that others don’t share because of this perspective. They meet athletes in those gaps. They don’t just get students to athletic scholarships and championships- they help athletes become active, contributing and effective members of society.

 I am who I am because of Coach B. and Coach K. I do what I do because my coaches taught me to take a breath and keep going when it feels like I am being stabbed beneath the ribs. I am able to advocate, to cheer, to encourage, to fight and to do what some think is impossible because I was taught, by incredible men, that there is no such thing as impossible when you lean in, lean on and put one foot in front of the other. Today, I still retreat to the woods, running the trails when I need a minute.

Coach K made a phone call. I don’t know what was said, I only barely registered that the call was made, but I was given no more medications after that. Nobody touched me after that. That Saturday, I was delivered to the Cowden-Herrick Invitational without any explanation except that “Your coach said you are needed by your team.” 

I don’t think I ran that meet. You don’t run if you miss practices, after all. But Coach K. said, “Glad you’re back, Kid.” and I got to be there, with my team. I rode the bus home, and Coach ensured I was returned to my dad’s home, where he knew I was safe. I was never trafficked again, and I saw the way Coach watched closely any time the person who had trafficked me was around. He may not have known what was happening, but he knew something was- and he didn’t let it go. That person KNEW Coach had eyes on them. 

That is what a coach does. It’s what my coach did, and my coach mentored and chose the person he was passing the baton to after decades of building a program rooted in THAT kind of coaching. The kind that raises up champions, sure, but also empowers survivors, giving the voiceless back their voices and reminding this community’s future leaders the value found in coming together for one another and with one another while still working hard independently. 

Coaches help create the future. 

I don’t know about anybody else, but when we find a Coach like that, I believe we should trust him. Listen to him. Value him. 

When a Coach like that pours himself into a mentee, literally raising up someone to carry on a tradition like that, I want to listen. 

We need more people like Coach K in the world. We need Coaches like him influencing the next generation. Why wouldn’t we want THE Coach that he has influenced since high school, that he has spoken into, mentored and supervised and hand-chosen as a replacement, to be the one to step in? 

For me, there would need to be an egregious offense to disregard the recommendation of the Coach who was all of this for me. 

And I am only one. There are countless other stories of the impact Coach K and his Mentee and assistant, Chris have had on those they have worked with. 

A quality Coach is worth so much. Don’t let one get away. 

Thanks, Coach.

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