Still Under the Influence

“Go to bed. You have work tomorrow.”

It was 10:30 when the message popped up in my chat window.

After a couple of exchanges of “What’s new?” I dutifully logged off and went to bed.

Was the message from my boss? No. Sibling? Parent? Nope.

Then who wields such influence that I follow instructions almost immediately? Coach Mark Saylor, my high school track coach.

I graduated over 30 years ago and it’s been a few years since I’ve seen him, so maybe it’s surprising that I still take direction from him. But then again, maybe it isn’t.

Inducted into the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1997, Coach Saylor created a strong sense of “team” in a sport based upon individual events. No small feat, as you can imagine.

Track & field events, for the most part, are individual competitions. It’s one athlete competing against everyone else, team members included. But the sense of team, of being one family, was always there.

We cheered each other on and celebrated successes together. We suffered defeats, fortunately not many, together. A Championship was a celebration for all. A loss was painful for each and every one of us.

We thought nothing of calling Coach on a Friday evening, and many times dropped in at his home for visits. We were always welcomed by both Coach and his wonderfully tolerant wife. Really – who wants their husband’s team dropping in after she’s had her wisdom teeth pulled? Yet we were graciously greeted, and never turned away.

I took my son to meet Coach Saylor a few years ago; I thought it was important that he meet the people who shaped me. I was surprised to hear, “Hey, Austin. Do you know who this is?” when the old scrapbooks and stories came out, but I probably shouldn’t have been. He was always our team’s biggest cheerleader!

Coach and I reconnected through the magic of technology awhile back, and we chat across the miles. Picking up where we left off 30+ years ago, his advice, interest, and encouragement continue. More than once he’s given me a much-needed pep talk when I was doubting myself. After all, the path to Shodan at this age has its challenges!

He reminds me of the tough girl I used to be, of the work ethic I possessed as a 17-year old, of the refusal to give up. When he tells me I can do it, I believe him. When he said he was proud of me after a miserable showing at a corporate challenge event last summer, I knew he meant it.

In return, my respect for him continues to grow. He was my coach 30 years ago, and even though I’m no longer running he will always be my coach. I’m grateful for his influence on the young woman I was, and I’m blessed by his continued support and encouragement in my latest adventures. He still has my best interests at heart, including when he reminds me I need to get some sleep!

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