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September 10, 2021

How a Good Coach Changed My Life

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When I thought I couldn’t possibly run another step, I rounded the corner and saw the big, blow-up finish line and race timer. I saw the volunteers handing out medals, my sister, and my best friend all along the finish line, but all I could focus on was one voice.

“You got it Jaime! You’re almost there! Finish strong!”

It was Coach Rob Frank, cheering me on as I finished my first ever marathon. 

This marathon was a huge accomplishment for me for many reasons. The most obvious: it was my first marathon – 26.2 miles! But it also checked off a bucket list item for me: run a marathon with Coach Frank, and it was my first race since I quit competing three years earlier because of a bad coach.

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The Beginning
I started running competitively in both cross country and track my freshman year of high school, and I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do forever. I loved the sport, and that was enough to see vast improvements over my four years at Banks High School. It also helped to have the most inspiring coach I’ve ever met – Coach Frank. He was the type of coach who saw the potential in every athlete he coached. 

He knew how to motivate and push us, but also how to reward us for a job well done. We practiced hard all week, but the day before any race, we knew we were going to play frisbee for practice. He would also give us banana popsicles – “The Cadillac of all popsicles” – after tempo runs (sometimes in the middle of the run) and let us practice relays with eggs.

Every workout he gave us was hard, but we all wanted to finish the workouts, and do a good job because we knew the hard work would pay off. Every hard workout felt easier because we had a coach who motivated us to put 110% into everything.

Related: 6 Tips and Tricks for Being a Well-Rounded Track & Field Athlete

My College Experience
By the time I graduated high school, I had made such progress that I was recruited to compete at an NAIA college. By that time, Coach Frank, the icon that he is, had already undergone many back surgeries, yet qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon more than once, and was still racing. Did I mention he was 65?

This was the highlight of my running career: I was getting fit, I was going to run in college, and I decided someday I was going to run a marathon with Coach Frank.

18 is a young age to say that was the highlight of my career, but it began going downhill not long after. I started practicing with my college team, and everything about it was completely opposite of the environment I had experienced in high school. I expected any college coach to be a hard-a**, but not a plain a**. He knew the sport well, and at first, I put my all into every practice and I was hitting all my goals and seeing substantial improvement. But this coach felt that negative reinforcement was the best motivator: the more I improved, the more he belitteld me.

When I got injured during the indoor season, the coach did nothing to help with the recovery process, but acted as if injured athletes weren’t worth his time. I stopped wanting to do the workouts, I didn’t want to show up to practice, and I stopped loving the sport that meant so much to me before. This disengagement caused me to get injured again during outdoor season. My coach, knowing how injured I was, made me race anyway, then after the race saw me and asked “why did you race when you were injured?” He told me I wouldn’t race again that season. He talked about the option to redshirt, but said he wasn’t going to let me. I just had to waste the season.

All this to say, this coach dampened my love for running. I quit the team, and whenever I tried to pick up running again, it just wasn’t fun anymore. I’d run two, maybe three weeks, and then drop it again for months. I did this for three years.

Related: Arielle Sanders: Having an Injury as a College Athlete

Training Again

Then, this April, Coach Frank texted me and said: “The tunnel marathon is August 15th, and registration is April 24th. Run it with me.” After not running consistently for three years, and only having four months to train for such a huge undertaking, I thought – “sure! Why not?” Coach Frank was at this point almost 69, and I knew if I wanted to run with him, I might as well do it sooner rather than later.

I started training immediately. I had a well-planned workout schedule and I stuck to it every day, and I loved it. I hit many obstacles along the way – injuries, the smoky weather, life in general – but this time, it was different. No matter the circumstances, I just wanted to start running again.

Coach Frank, his niece Shannon, who was going to run with us, and I would share our goals and milestones every week or so in our group chat. It had become such a healthy environment full of people who just loved running and inspired each other to keep going no matter what.

Any time I went to my hometown to visit family, I met up with Coach Frank and we did our long runs together. My first ever 18- and 22-mile runs were with him. At the end of July, my training started winding down, and two short weeks later, it was time to travel up to Washington for the marathon. 

Related: All-American Pole Vaulter Shares his Story on Finding the Right Coach

The Marathon
The marathon ended up being the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. By mile 16, I told myself at least once a mile: “Oh sh*t, I’m not going to finish.” But I knew I had done the training and I knew that I wasn’t in this alone. So, I kept going. And seeing Coach Frank at the finish line was all the reason I needed to keep going.

I was so sore that I could barely walk for four days, but three weeks later, now that I’m not sore anymore, I’m planning to run another marathon in June. 

This is something I don’t think I ever would have done if I hadn’t had someone like Coach Frank to inspire me and to teach me that no matter what brings me down, I can always go for a run.