Last year, my dad died of pancreatic cancer. Today, March 30, would have been his 55th birthday. My thoughts drift away in memory. The reason I even decided to start running track was because my dad always spoke so fondly of his high school hurdling days. I was 6-years-old then and just wanted to do everything my dad did...you remember those days.
I remember all those sunny Saturdays at the track while other kids were doing little league. Between events, I used to sit in my dad's lap in the stands. He would ask me if my muscles were sore. They never were, but I always said yes because then I got a little massage.
While my mom was screaming her lungs out on the sideline for me, my dad sat back calmly and quietly. Of course, I didn't realize until a few years ago that he was probably more nervous than I was. Another thing I didn't realize until later was that my dad bragged about my track success to anybody and everybody—just out of my earshot.
When I got a little older and my dad saw that I was talented and passionate about track, he began to “coach” me. (The school track team coaching for my age was more like babysitting). He taught me how to lean forward when I landed in the long jump pit, rather than to fall back on my hands. He taught me to anticipate the starter's gun without false starting. He taught me to lean at the tape.
When I got to junior high, many changes happened. Of course, I got my first opportunity to try hurdling and continue following in his footsteps. I was a good hurdler and set a school hurdling record in 8th grade. But, I also started high jumping. My dad didn't know anything about high jumping. Looking back, I think he felt a bit useless to me. What tips could he give me? What stories could he tell? Instead, I had to teach him the nuances of the event.
As I got into high school and college, I pursued the high jump and gave up hurdling. I could tell my dad was proud, but he didn't want my head to get too big. Once in college, we actually got into an argument after I won the conference meet in the high jump and qualified for nationals. I don't even remember what it was about, other than him nit-picking me. My dad had been such a good coach that I'd surpassed him, and now he didn't know what to do.
One of my favorite track moments with my dad was my very last track meet ever—NCAA Nationals in 2000. My parents stood on the fence line with my coach watching me. When I attempted a height that would have been a new personal best for me, I got so close to clearing it. Apparently, Mr. Silent-and-Calm was jumping up and down and waving his arms around. He ended up slashing his arm on the pointy top of the chain link fence they were leaning on. He had a huge, bloody gash.
Even though I had left the path of his footprints and was blazing my own trail, I never forget that I wouldn't even have been out there walking if it weren't for his influence, coaching, and support.
I love you, Dad! Happy birthday.