Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Maple Leaf

As I pulled into Baldwin City many years ago, I had many things rolling through my mind.  What will Coach Kindler think of me?  Does he see me as a serious candidate for the graduate assistant position, or will he see me as an overly confident college runner?  When I arrived at his office and sat down, we talked for a while about training ideas, my goals, my faith, and simply joked about running.  After the meeting and seeing campus along with many athletes, I knew that the position was exactly what I was looking for, an opportunity to get my foot in the door with coaching while getting my master’s degree.

A few years later I once again was nervous making the journey to Baldwin City.  The Maple Leaf Invitational has special meaning to me.  It is a course I coached a conference championship team on, a course I painted a few too many times, rolling hills that I ran way too many times, and a place of memory.  The memories of Coach Kindler, the man who opened the door for me as a coach, have flooded my mind since his passing and even more so with a trip back to Baker. 

I knew the day would be hard emotionally, but what I wasn’t expecting to see was a full grown deer darting out in front of the team van causing us to hit the deer.  The fear of a car accident while driving your team is one of the greatest fears a coach can have, and living it was not fun.  Luckily, we were able to pull over, and no one was injured or even too shaken up from the accident.  I put as many of the runners in the second van to get them to the meet, and the rest of us waited patiently for the police and a replacement van to be sent by Kansas Wesleyan University.  It wasn’t long, and we were on our way; this took away the hour or so of time that I would have had to get my team ready, but also the time for me to get emotional seeing the Kindler family and countless athletes who came back to race for the alumni team.
When we finally arrived at the meet, there were but a few minutes until the start of the first race.  I said a quick prayer with my ladies’ team and watched them take off in the race, hoping they had properly warmed up.  I, on the other hand, was racing in the men’s race for the Baker Alumni team, a race I had planned to win in honor of Coach Kindler and all he had done for me.  I normally don’t race in meets in which my team at Kansas Wesleyan is racing, but I wanted to toe the line with past athletes and show my support.  Being part of the alumni team was very exciting for me, sharing the starting box and the excitement before the gun is a feeling that I had almost forgotten but truly enjoyed.  With no warm up I contemplated not even racing, but being part of the alumni team kept the drive high even if I knew my results might not be up to par.  I knew that Coach Kindler was watching and would want me to race regardless of the warm up and to do my best.  So, race I did and still managed a close 3rd place finish with 10 college teams racing. I was happy with the result.
Emotionally it was hard to coach and to race on that day because of the dramatic impact Coach Kindler had made on me.  I learned so much from him and owe him a lot because he really opened so many doors for me in the coaching world.  He was a great coach, one I learned a great deal from and will miss.  The awards on his walls speak of his amazing coaching success, but what many don’t know is what an impact he had on his runners and the people around him with their faith.  Zach invited me to his men’s group and was always working to be a strong Christian husband, father, coach, and friend.  Getting up at 5 a.m. to make the men’s group was not easy, but he challenged me, and I knew I would really grow from this opportunity.  After seeing such a great turn out and being reminded of all he did for his athletes, it made me think of my relationship with my athletes.  
I recently read a quote by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban who said, “Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it away from you.”  As I let this quote sink in, I had many thoughts rolling through my head as I really enjoyed the quote.  While working for Coach Kindler, I learned to work 24 hours a day.  Many times I felt as though he was pushing me too hard, having me do too much for an assistant coach and getting way too little sleep.  Little did I know he was simply preparing me to be a head coach; he knew my potential and pushed me, so he was preparing me to win.  After leaving Baker, it took me two years of recruiting to build a solid program and to win my first title at KWU, also being named the KCAC Women’s Cross Country coach of the year very quickly.  Whether it is my coaching, running, or my faith, I am constantly on the move and always trying to improve.  There might not be someone working 24 hours to take what I have, beat me at what I do, but there will always be evil at work trying to pull me off track.  That is why focusing on one’s faith 24 hours a day is so important.  Your competitors may rest, but the devil won’t. 

Someday I hope to have hundreds of athletes who have great memories of me, athletes who I helped to come closer to Christ and to hit their potential both academically and athletically.  Coach Zach Kindler may not have had the longest of journeys here on earth, but he sure had an important one.  He was truly a mentor and friend to me, and I miss him.  I will remember him, and honor him in my faith, my coaching, and my running, and hopefully I will make an impact as great as he has made on so many individuals.     
I owe a special thank you to those who reached out to me, giving me a shoulder to lean on when I needed it.  I did my best to be a strong leader for my past and present athletes, but even the strongest of Christian men need the support of friends.  God provided so many wonderful people to be there for me and support me.