Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Measure of a Man

My track coach, Erik Anderson, died in a tragic accident at school on Thursday, February 19th. He leaves behind a family he adored...wife Mariza and daughters Evelyn and Ripley. I thought I'd share just what a difference he made in my life in the brief time I knew him.

I first met Erik Anderson when I came to talk to Coach Beatty (head track coach) about running on the Spokane Community College track team. I am a 35 year old, single mother going back to school with only a few years of triathlon experience. I had never run track or cross country and had only been running for the past 3 years in conjuction with my triathlon training. But they took me on and for whatever reason, thought I had potential. Since I was going to be a distance runner, Larry took me into Erik's office to meet him. All three of us sat there, talking about running track and why they thought I'd be a good addition to the team. I literally could have sat there all day talking with them. It didn't take long for me to realize that the only thing small about this man was his physical size.

Immediately upon leaving, I called my best friend in San Diego (who is my other cheerleader ;) and told her that I'd just met my track coach and I really feel like he believes in me. I actually got choked up talking to her about him. I had never felt so much excitement and enthusiasm for my ability from someone else-it was inspiring to say the least.

School started a month or so later and I showed up for practice that first day. We had a team meeting and Erik spoke to us as a group. His passion for our team, for our ablity and his desire for our success was overwhelming. I knew I was a part of something great, something life changing, little did I know that this man would have such an effect on me in such a short period of time and then be gone. However painful the loss of him is, the richness of his brief presence in my life is such a gift that will stay with me always. I know that even though he is gone, he will continue to inspire and teach me.

As the weeks went on, I often found myself walking by Erik's office just to talk about running or to gather some enthusiasm for the day. His smile was welcoming and I always walked out of there, ready to take on whatever task was handed me.

We had an indoor meet coming up and Erik asked me how I was feeling and if I wanted to race. I wanted so badly to race, to show him that his belief in me was not wasted. And so, he signed me up for the 5k. Race day arrived and he stood on the track, yelling out splits to me along with encouraging words. I went out WAY too fast and ended up really blowing my first track race. He stood there, every lap I came around and yelled out to me and encouraged me to keep going. I remember one go-around he yelled "I'm still proud of you!" I wanted to yell back "WHY???" but that was him, no matter what-still believing in us no matter how bad we blew it. I found him after my event so we could talk about it. I wanted to talk to my coach, I loved that he was there to go to and I wanted to hear what he had to say. I wanted to hear that he shared my disappointment and that he believed as I did that I was capable of much more. And that is just what he did-just what he said. Not even two minutes into the conversation (shortly after I had just choked in a 5k) I wanted to get back on that track. Had he asked me, I would have run again that day without batting an eye. I wanted him to see that his belief in me was not wasted, that I would get there, that I would show him I could do it.

Two days after his death, we had another meet scheduled and I was going to run the 3k. We were working hard to get me feeling the pain in preparation for the meet. That was one thing he told me after the 5k, that he didn't think I was hurting as much as I thought and so we had been working on getting past that pain and finding the strength to push through it. One of the last things Erik said to me with a huge grin on his face was "you've had a really good week" in reference to how hard I was working and I could tell he was excited for Saturday. I am so sad that he won't be present to see me have the kind of success he envisioned for me-that I won't get to see that smile when I finish. And so I hang on to his vision, his undying enthusiasm and faith in me not only as an athlete but as a human being. I am making a promise to him that I will get there, I will make him proud, lacking only his physical presence but full of his encouragement, belief and inspiration.

A man is measured by many things. This man, who stood 5-foot-something, was larger than life. His smile was huge, his laugh enormous and his ability to encourage and inspire others was like no other. I remember last weekend, we were doing hill repeats. Really, really hard hill repeats. As I came up to the really steep part of the hill on repeat #7, he yelled out to me "there is a difference between good and great-anyone can be good, what are you going to do?". I busted my ass up that hill, realizing that I had so much more to give-and that is one of the many things he taught me, sometimes you've got to dig deep but it's there. Those words will stay with me always. Anyone lucky enough to have known him is a better person for it. Saying he will be missed is such an understatement. We have lost a giant of a man but his gifts are many and we all will continue to benefit from them-from him. His absence will always be felt-his presence never forgotten.