It’s the running time of year right now. When the cross-country season has started and the mornings are getting cooler and the smell of fresh-cut grass mixes with fall smells– like the smell of smoke from woodburning stoves. When the grass is still green but the leaves are beginning to change colors.
Those of you who have been visiting the blog have probably noticed that I write a lot of posts about running. Those of you who have read my books have probably noticed that the characters are often runners. I joke that this is because running is the only sport I was ever any good at (and this is true)–but it’s also because running has been part of my life for so long and is so important to me.
I started when I was fourteen. This is my nineteenth autumn of running. I’m not in those high school races anymore; the state race in October goes by and it belongs to other girls, other teams. But I can’t drive by Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City without getting a feeling that is half anticipation and half fear. I can’t help but want to stride it out at the end of every run.
I’m still running. And it’s because of the man in the picture above. Coach Corry.
I owe him so much.
Coach Corry, who is also a medical doctor, taught us to appreciate the body for what it can do, not how it looks. He taught us to work hard but not to be stupid about it. He took us seriously, and our health seriously, and he cared about us. He is a fantastic coach–his girls’ cross country team has won the state championship many, many times–but he cheers as loudly and is as thrilled for the girl in last place as he is for the fastest girl on the team.
Everyone should be so lucky to have such a mentor.
And a good mentor, which Coach Corry was (and is–he’s still coaching, and still cheering) teaches you things that you can apply throughout your life. I remember one conversation in which he told me that he thought I didn’t have a lot of natural running ability. The way he said it was a compliment: that I’d made up for a lack of ability with hard work. It’s not like I was the fastest girl on the team, ever. But, for Coach Corry, it was all about the team and about the PR. The personal record. Running your best and winning against yourself while caring about your teammates.
I remembered his comment when I was soundly rejected in 2004 when I queried my first book. No agents were interested. And I had worked really hard and I had queried a lot of agents. “Okay,” I thought. “I’m not good at this yet. But I’m a hard worker and I’ll keep writing every day and maybe someday I will be.”
It’s six years later. There are lots of writers who are much, much better than I am. But I didn’t give up, and I think I owe a lot of that to a comment made years ago when I was in high school. To someone who told me the only value isn’t in being good, but in working hard. In trying to get better.
The best coaches and mentors are the ones who not only changed your life once, but help you change it over and over again even after the passing of years and the changing of circumstances.
Coach knows he taught me to run, but I don’t know if he knows that he also taught me to write.
Thank you, Coach. And best wishes on the upcoming season.