In 1987 I became a runner. This was an identity that I would have for many, many years. This path would shape me into the person that I am today.
It began when I still lived in Connecticut and it began because I was acting out.
As I shared in part one, I wasn't finding my way well when I was young. This led to some acting out and thus I was in trouble. For the last few weeks of 8th grade I was grounded by my mom.
So when I got a call from my aunt asking if I wanted to go do a 5k road race I jumped at the opportunity to get out of the house.
I enjoyed the 5k a lot and two weeks later I left Connecticut for good.
Once I got settled with my dad in Massachusetts I started looking for road races to run. I enjoyed the achievement and the way I felt after I finished each race.
Don't get me wrong. I was awful. I did a 5 mile or 10k race every weekend all summer and I never once got an award for placing in my age group.
Not one award.
I learned at that time that it was perfectly acceptable to do for the sake of doing. I understood that this was making me a better human.
These lessons I would eventually learn very well and I still teach to this day.
Since I was new to town I had been going to the local youth center to play basketball, pool, foosball and to make some friends. The director was a guy named Andy.
Andy would go on to become a coach, friend, mentor and someone that would teach me the skills and principles that I would, and still do, build my life and career on.
Andy was the cross country coach at the local high school. I was a kid about to be a freshman and was growing to love running. Somehow neither one of us made that connection till about half way through the summer when I ran into Andy (almost literally!) at the end of a road race.
Andy also organized a road race of his own that was held at the end of the summer. He was at the end of a race that I was running handing out flyers.
We were both pretty shocked to see each other at that moment.
He told me to come out for cross country and I did.
Cross country had a rocky start but I persevered and ended up earning my varsity letter as a freshman.
The day after the season ended I showed up at the cleat room (the meeting place outside our locker room) and went for a run with some of the upperclassmen.
I showed up the next day as well.... and the next day.... and EVERY SINGLE day after that.
That spring I would set the freshman 2 mile record at 10:28.9. This record is over 30 years old and still stands today.
I would also run a 4:49 mile by sheer will and determination.
That winter a couple of things happened that stick in my mind.
One was that I told coach I wanted to be a miler. He told me that I wasn't fast enough to be a miler.
The other conversation was with the guys on a run. It was Randy and Gordon, who were juniors at the time, and Chris, who was a sophomore. I still remember the exact place that we were; the exact moment when Randy said, "Coach wants a state championships so bad!"
The next year was my sophomore year and our cross country team went from not qualifying for the All State Meet in 1987 to finishing 10th place in the state in 1988.
I ran a 4:40 mile that year.
In 1989 I was a junior and our cross country team would run the table. We didn't lose one time. This includes the state championship.
We won coach that state title.
I managed a 4:32 mile that spring.
Of course we would go on to win again in 1990 and this time setting the state record for best score.
In 1991 I would set the school record for the one mile run with a 4:24.2.
Not bad for a kid who wasn't "fast enough to be a miler."
That record would stand for so long that the kid that broke the record literally wasn't born the day I set the record.
Not bad at all.
My success as a runner on both the team and as an individual was NOT an accident. It wasn't luck. It wasn’t talent.
Being an all state level runner only came after I DECIDED that it would happen.
Sports are always great lessons for life. If you set your goals high enough and work hard enough you can achieve whatever it is that you desire.
That first winter after my first cross country season was hard. I ran everyday and most times it was just me heading out the door.
Were there days when I would rather have played basketball? Hell yes!
Were there days that I wanted to go home and watch TV or hang at the fire station with my dad? You bet!
Was it easy getting up at 5am to go running on the icy roads, in the dark, while on a ski trip? Certainly not!
Was it easy spending a summer riding my bike back and forth to two jobs and still running 6 miles at 9pm? Not at all.
I forged success as a high school athlete because it was what I had determined was going to happen.
I was going to win that state title for my coach and I was going to be a miler to prove him wrong.
There was nothing that was going to stop me.
I graduated high school in 1991 and made the decision to attend the University of Massachusetts that spring.
There were more lessons to learn.
I would continue to follow the path despite having no idea where it would lead.
I would fight on.
The next part of this series will highlight the mistakes that I made and person growth that I desperately needed. This part is called: "Learning to live".