The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

As I was entering my freshman year in high school, my uncles (who played professional baseball and coached baseball and basketball for years) suggested I go out for cross country to stay in shape for basketball season. Reluctantly, I showed up for my first high school cross country practice not knowing the first thing about competitive running.

That first practice was running on the track until we got bored. I remember Jeff Kyle, our number one runner and Journey enthusiast, complaining loudly with, “Run? On the track?!” I had never been more sore in my life afterward. Soaking in the tub and nursing tight quads and broken blisters, I didn’t think this was the right thing for me. However, my Dad encouraged me to keep at it.

I ended up twisting my ankle in my first race and finishing dead last. I was inexperienced and had no idea how to pace myself for three miles. Talking to my Dad after my disastrous first race was not fun. Not because he expected perfection or demanded excellence, I was just embarrassed. Vowing to do better, I steadily worked harder in each practice. I never finished last again.

When basketball try-outs came around, I quickly realized I was not going to make the team. Still, I was in excellent shape. Plus, I’d found a way to participate in high school athletics since I was never going to play football or basketball.

The summer after my freshman year, I worked even harder and ran every weekday morning on our home course with my Dad timing me before he went into work. On Sunday’s I’d run five or six miles. For fun. I earned my Most Improved award and developed into a decent runner over my high school career.

I decided at the very last moment if I was going to run cross country in college. I walked down to the union and found Al Rosenberger sitting on one of the couches. He had on an Illinois College baseball hat, a buttoned down shirt and jeans. In his early 60s, he was acting like a kid excited about Christmas instead of what I envisioned as a college coach. It was just the second year of the program and they needed athletes to come out and I fit the bill perfectly.

His sales pitch worked. As a college sophomore, I was the MVP of the team. As a college senior I was the team captain. I ended up being the first four year letterwinner in cross country at Illinois College. I even held the four mile record for a year.

Coach Rosy passed away in 2002. I just recently found out. I was struck, by how much I missed him pushing me to be better as we ran the “serpentine” or hearing his stories of being in Burma and Korea during two wars.

I’ve had coaches who yelled, mentored, pushed and couldn’t care less. I’ve seen my Dad coach a bunch of middle school kids in tournament baseball games and I’ve seen my brother coach up his frosh-soph baseball team and instill a fire in a high school football special teams squad as they played for a state championship.

I’ve been lucky enough to have people in my life who believed in me. Take a moment and thank that parent, coach, mentor or other person who helped, inspired or encouraged you.

Thanks, Rosy.