An Uphill Battle: Defining Moments – High School

Because it was boring…

Explaining how my freshman year in high school affected me as a whole is difficult to quantify. The classes I took and the challenges I encountered helped me to grow up and learn, yes, but when I think really hard I can’t seem to find the right words to put thought to paper.

Something I can describe, something I remember very clearly, were yet again physical in nature. I’ve already told about my first few months. Now I’d like to connect the beginning with the end. I need to remember what happened during the winter months and my first experiences with indoor track.

If you, the reader, are waiting to hear how wonderful school was, you won’t. School work was lame and shitty. I don’t care to explain how the monotonous writing and reading assignments I got didn’t do anything but frustrate and confuse me.

(fun projects and good yet forgetful learning experiences excluded)

Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Running – It Really F**ing Hurts

My middle school track experience filled me with confidence. I thought it prepared me for high school track.

Yea. Like hell it did.1923946_550438160409_4777_n

What I didn’t realize was just how much room for growth I had. I loved to run and move, but I never deliberately practiced outside of the usual practice days. I never focused on repetitions. I never focused on creating an athletic body. On top of this I didn’t have a coach or a team that I was particularly devoted to.

Sure, band was great, but the physical aspects of playing an instrument didn’t exactly cause excessive physical pain.

Maine is a cold state and during the throes of winter, namely October to late April, things are snowy, icy, dark, and freezing. Running outside isn’t even an option some days because the air can get so cold it would burn your lungs and almost break our teeth.

Our retreat to the indoors was normally the only thing we could do. I had only ever been inside of a large gym and didn’t realized there were facilities that contained indoor tracks. These feats of engineers are very, very big and very, very expensive. Naturally we were banished to practice in the hallways on hard cement, tiled floors and straight hallways with 90 degree turns.

The way practice was set up was rather interesting. The halls created a big square that connected to each other through these giant wooden doors. In order to run all the way around we needed to prop these doors open. On occasion they would close on us while we ran through. I might have residual bruising from slamming into these wooden behemoths. It wasn’t the best way to practice, but Maine being icy, freezing, dark and snowy this was our only way we could practice.

He Called Us Beagles, We Called Him Coach

For every athlete there was a coach there that helped push them. It doesn’t matter if it was physically, emotionally or general mentorship, working with our coach was a vital part of our sport. Talk to anyone that’s ever competed. I’ll bet they remember their coach. I may not have liked all of my coaches but they certainly influenced me the most.

His name was Putnam, but we called him Coach. I still consider him to be one of my biggest influences through high school. Eventually I ended up spending every season, including some of the summer, with this man.

I remember the first time we met. He was in the middle of yelling at some people to run faster or do something better, and he turned and looked me straight in the eye. His clear blue yet intense eyes peered into me as we shook hands. Our conversation was short but he knew who I was. Naturally my sister had done track before me and our name, the only Robustelli in Maine, gave us away.

My first day of indoor track Coach arrived. He always had pep in his step and a manically loud voice. I immediately liked him. Crazy as he was, I can always sense when I’m with a kindred spirit. His weird sense of humor and high energy appealed to me.

Those first few months Coach laid into our team without mercy. It literally felt like bootcamp from hell. I had the delusion that because I was skinny I was in shape. I learned very quickly the difference between skinny and ‘in shape’ and just how quickly confidence can turn to desperation.

Our practices were fairly routine and similar. They usually started with a few warm up laps.

A note on warm up laps. They can be devastating to some. I can always tell who is doing good and who is dying inside by the looks on their face. It’s the difference between calm confidence and a look of utter desperation and despair.

When the laps were finished we would circle up for stretching and calisthenics. Push ups, running/sprinting in place, crunches, planks, jumping jacks, anything that we could do without weights we did. Then onto form drills. These drills were designed to help suck the elbows in, get the knees driving up, and refine the stride. Following form drills we lined up for repeat sprints. It’s at this point my legs usually felt like jiggly jello.

I was in utter despair when I learned this entire process was called a ‘warm up’. The actual work out involved us breaking into smaller groups divided by our area of competition. Sprinters grouped together. Distance runners stepped aside. All other jumping, throwing, or vaulting athletes would retreat to roomier places.

My hell was just beginning. Body weak and sweaty, I lined up between the first set of wooden doors. Instructions for number of laps and times expected were handed out, and then we ran, and ran, and ran.

That night after we were released from the hallways of hell, my body was on fire. I could barely walk through the house. Don’t even mention stairs, it still hurts thinking about them. The worst part of all was the knowledge of the practice the very next day. It was vomit inducing.

So it went for weeks. From what I remember it took over a month before I could walk normally. I remember the moment I realized I could walk down the stairs without pain. I was ecstatic yet little sad. Externally the pain was my bragging right. The right to talk about how hard and extreme practice was. Internally it was a personal reminder that I was tough enough to survive being brutalized day after day. It confirmed I had Grit.

During this time I was just grateful to be standing up. I wanted to go fast but I was still pleased with my progress.

Dissecting my experiences with practice I’ve concluded a few things. The importance of a coach, deliberate practice, repetition, be dissatisfied with inconsistency, and the importance of having a team are tantamount to success later in life. I can still feel the effects.

I obviously had coaches previously but here’s the difference. I was being coached in something I was and am interested in. When I found the sport (which can be translated into job, profession, activity, whatever) I then found a coach who was passionate about the subject. He was always sharing knowledge, energy, enthusiasm. He was bought into the process and loved to coach. On top of which he sought advice and help from other people who were just as interested and passionate about track and field.

Learning to be dissatisfied with inconsistency is a strange lesson. Coach would praise us for hitting out times, but would spit venom if we started to slack off. It taught me that practice and consistency were important but I had to be focused and committed to pushing myself to be better each time I stepped up to the line. I had to be dissatisfied with laziness or, inconsistency.

Enter in the team. When running by myself it’s hard to gauge how hard I’m pushing. Yes I can feel the pain of running but it’s only when I run with a team that the game changes. Crowding the starting line to get the best position, running hard and competing became synonymous. It pushed us to be better for ourselves and each other. The world of running becomes more mental than physical and having a team makes all the difference. Every time I pushed to my limits, without fail, my logical brain would kick in to slow me down. Being alone I would fail to push aside those negative thoughts.

Being alone I would cave in.

Running in a group I would get a sharp elbow or a breathy word of encouragement to keep going, keep pushing, just a little farther. The team on the sidelines were just as important. They would yell and scream for us to keep up the pace, keep pushing, don’t give up. Without a team I struggled to push. With a team I became more, better, stronger, faster.

The one thing I miss most about high school is my team.

I consider being coached, cheered on, pushed past limiting beliefs, encouraged by others in the arena of battle these to be more important than most of the information I was taught through high school.

It’s a powerful experience to participate in a sport. It helped me frame up the rest of my time in school. Good and bad.

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