Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Making a Case for Cold and Wet

I paraded my wet, rank dirty shoes all around town Monday evening, even though I felt I carried a stench around with me everywhere I went. When I finally arrived home it was after nine at night and I’d been gone for fourteen hours. School, track, paperwork, workout, visit my sister, visit my husband, shower, bed. That is the ritual I follow from day to day during this season. And it’s invigorating and exhausting all at once.

So why the soaked shoes? Well, the athletes needed some…inspiration. The track was cold, and wet, and covered in slush and moose poop. When I’d finished my work with the hurdlers I started circling the track alongside several of them, encouraging them to keep working, to pick up the pace, to run. “You’re not as cold as we are,” they protested “not as wet. You just got here.”

So I have no credibility because I’m not cold and wet? I can fix that.

And with that I cut in from lane eight, where the track was mostly clear, to lane one where the thin ice cracked through to ice water and slush inches deep, splashing up my legs and onto my back as I continued, yelling back all along “Now? Now will you run?”

With that they joined me: splashing, running, chuckling as we continued around the backstretch, basking in the simplicity of running through puddles on a sunny—albeit cold—afternoon. And as we tracked back in the hallways after we’d finished, they ditched their shoes and left wet footprints of various sizes that gradually evaporated in the warmth of indoors. The stench of wet, dirty feet grew stronger as they piled in, and even though they complained, I couldn’t help but feel invigorated with the ice splashing activity.

Yes, it’s track season, and all wet, muddy, gross accessories that it brings.

It will all be over so quickly; I’ve coached too many seasons to think that it might linger. The meets and practices will run together as the school year comes to a close, and though one minute I am planning out events for our first meet, in the next I will be taking inventory of returned track jackets.

This will be my fourteenth track season and my fifth as a coach. Spring would not be spring without it. Even as my free time is quickly filled with the logistical planning and execution of practices and meets, I find myself slipping into autopilot, content to reappear into society in late May with a face two shades darker than the rest of my body from long days in the cold sunshine, and a pile of mud-stained gear that will never be quite the same.

Coaching is nothing if not consuming, but on days when splashing through puddles of ice wins over adolescent boys that rarely follow my lead, I notice much less that my schedule too has been won over by teenagers looking for guidance in a sport that I have long loved. And sometimes there is nothing more rewarding that remembering how much you love your job, even if it leaves you with soaked, smelly shoes that you have to put back on tomorrow.

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