Last week, when Maggie’s former high school volleyball coach, Jeff Nannen, passed away unexpectedly, we got to talking about mentors. Maggie had written a column about Mr. Nannen during her stint writing for her university newspaper, and it occurred to me that I’ve never really expressed my gratitude for my own formative mentors. And as it relates to this blog about running, I figured I had the perfect forum to pay tribute to my high school track coach.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We were plugging through track practice on the dusty track at Blackhawk Junior High. It was a grey day that looked like winter, but felt like spring. I was running 200m repeats.
Since I was a new student, I’d only heard about Mr. Swanson, the track and cross country coach at the high school, but never met him in person. So when a gangly, goofy-looking man sidled up to the track wearing a faded blue, salt-stained Pleasant Valley hat, I didn’t think much of it. I could feel him watching me as we finished out our sprints, and when I sat down to stretch, he walked up and introduced himself to me.
Maybe it was there, on that gravel track set amidst a manure-scented cornfield, that Ron Swanson — or, Swaney, as all of his runners lovingly refer to him — saw something in me. Whatever it is that piqued his interest in me on that cloudy afternoon, helped shape the kind of person I am today.
Over the next four years, Swaney took me under his wing. His first love would always be cross country, but he taught this sprinter (who adamantly refused to run any races longer than one lap on the track) a few things about potential, hard work, and most of, myself.
You see, Swaney wasn’t like any of the other coaches I’d ever had. I could go on for pages and pages with stories and memories of how Swaney nurtured me and pushed me and showed me what I was capable of. I realize now that it takes a special person to voluntarily take on the challenge of adolescent girls, and I salute anyone who does it with the necessary grace and fortitude required.
I can’t put my finger on what exactly it was about him, but for some reason, I always wanted to meet his challenges. To finish his workouts. To show him I could do it.
I wanted to be the athlete that he thought I was.
Even now, I often think about him while I’m running. I wonder what he thinks about my new-found dedication to distance, what he thinks about my pace, and if I’m living up to his expectations. I’m certainly not setting records or winning races, but I do love to run. I love the effort it requires and how it makes me feel. And because Swaney laid this foundation, I am eternally grateful. —Aidz