Coach @’s Corner 5:11.11

May 11th, 2011 in Articles by 0 Comments

Each week Coach @’s Corner addresses a variety of topics related to high school coaching, self-coaching, and our sport at large. Have a question or something you’d like us to address? Contact us using the methods at the end of the column.

I’d like to say it truly started with a great coach. However, my 25-year running odyssey actually began with a poster in a junior-high locker room, a dark and dirty junior-highlocker room… in North Attleborough, Massachusetts

I was 12 years old and kind of fat. I played basketball. In fact, I was the Elks Club’s 11 and 12year-old free-throw shooting champion and won a round-trip visit to scenic New Bedford for the regional championships in the 7th grade. I was slow on the basketball court and probably spent too much time eating Friendly’s ice cream sundaes and Fritos. However, this poster that I encountered just before Mr. Nedee’s gym class intrigued me.

I can’t recall all the runners pictured on the mural but I imagine Alberto Salazar, Bill Rodgers, and Roger Bannister were among them. Their magazine images were cut neatly and pasted onto a placard that hung next to the out-of-order showers at NAJHS. Their faces were in pain, their bodies engaged in an intentional, defiant act of anaerobic agony. They were like spirits that called out to me, “Run, Atwood. Run! Come on… you can do it.”

In Sharpie marker was scribbled: Join Cross Country This Fall! See Mr. Robertson in Room 101.

Mr. Steve Robertson was my basketball coach. He was also a science teacher and the high school girls track coach. As we did our science experiments, he was working with Coach Dwight Estey, my 2nd grade physical education teacher, to build a state-level girls outdoor track program at the high school. What did I know? I was a fat, foul-shooting pre-teen with no knowledge or experience of aerobic activity other than my Dad riding his three-speed 40 miles from Hingham to North Attleboro one hot summer’s day as my family mocked him from our ’79 Chevy. I think my Mom was chain-smoking Salem 100’s the whole way, and we stopped for ice cream.

So I joined.  Practices were three days a week at the World War I Memorial Park, which features the highest peak in Bristol County. There’s actually a ski slope there that my current team works out on today. Mr. Robertson met with us and had us run the 1.9-mile loop three times a week. I was slow, one of the last guys on the team, but I kept showing up. We had team jerseys: red cotton t-shirts with a white-winged foot on the front. I hated it. But I loved it.

You see I was a “bench-rider” in hoops. I could shoot… a set shot with two hands. My jump shot was awful. I was growing, but I hadn’t reached my eventual height of 6’4”. I was about 5’6”. And man, was I lazy and slow. Very slow. Mr. Robertson played me at the end of games when it didn’t matter. I think he felt bad for me.

However, during cross-country practice and meets, I was participating, I was in the game. He barked at me to run harder up the hills, to catch the guy in front of me, to keep going, to never give up. Mr. Robertson probably watched me run in silent disgust and then went home and counted down the days until spring, when he coached the number-one girl in Massachusetts in the 100 meters, Melody Johnson. I think she won a state title in the 4 x 100m and shot put too. Who the hell was I?

I made contact with Mr. Robertson last week on Facebook, Coach Robertson, I should properly call him. He wrote, “I still tell stories about you and your never-say-quit attitude (and your big feet )… last one out of the woods!” .

The irony was that I wanted to quit every time I tried to run.  It hurt. My lungs burned. My legs cramped. I wanted a Friendly’s ice cream cone and to be good at a sport like basketball that was more popular than this insanity. But my coach stuck with me and kept me in the game. I won’t forget that.

When I reached high school, my times broke through and I rose to the state level, like what Melody Johnson did while I was still in junior high. Mr. Robertson moved up to Maine, where he continued to teach and coach. However, I think it’s important to realize that I probably wouldn’t have achieved what I have if it wasn’t for my first cross-country coach in the 7th grade… and that poster board he’d taken the time to make with pictures from old running magazines.


Coach @ won his second 5K of the spring season last weekend but took three wrong turns on the way to victory… He’s happy to say that his 5:55 pace beat his 7th grade mile time. He is currently working on a book on running entitled, The Untitled Atwood Running Project.

Have an opinion or question on self coaching? Let us know in the comments below, or reach Coach Atwood here.

Author: Atwood

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