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Loss to Lessons

By Greg Coplen

It was just about two weeks ago that we found out that all spring athletics had been suspended. A couple of days later we would find out that the suspension would be longer than first anticipated. At this point in time, none of us know whether or not we will have a season of any kind. To preface this short story, let me just say that I support any decision that our communities, states, countries and beyond are making right now that attempt to lessen the impact of a virus that we really know little about. If the decisions that are being made are in an effort to save the lives of those we love then I’m going to support those decisions.

However, that doesn’t lessen the pain that kids, coaches and families across the country are feeling right now regarding their own sports. Some are mourning the potential loss of chasing an All-League selection, maybe a state qualifier, perhaps even a state championship, and for the very few, possibly even chasing a state or national record. Some are mourning their first chance to be a Varsity participant. Some are mourning the loss of their very first season of competition.

Those feelings are real and the sense of loss is palpable.

I think what the majority of athletes and coaches across the country are feeling, more than anything, is just the loss of community. The experience that used to be shared. The training that is now taking place in isolation. The fear of what may be to come, the fear of what may be to lose. The inability to physically celebrate each other.

As a Cross Country & Track coach, I’m experiencing all of these emotions at the current time just like the rest of you.

A couple of days ago I was out at a local running trail getting ready to start my own workout. As I was warming up I spotted an individual from the team I coach out getting their own workout in. The individual was running up the trail towards me. I actually wasn’t quite sure what to do in that moment! As a coach, I’m certainly taking the no-contact rule very seriously right now. However, I stuck my hand up in the air to wave to the individual.

And in that moment the athlete saw me and all of a sudden started sprinting right towards me with a huge smile. We gave each other a huge bear hug, talked for about 30 seconds, and then went our separate ways. I received a text from the individual’s mom later that morning showing me the text that her child sent to her after seeing me. The text said something like “I JUST SAW COACH WHILE I WAS RUNNING!!! IT WAS ALMOST LIKE EVERYTHING WAS RIGHT AGAIN!!!”

And that isolated moment just confirmed so completely how much the community aspect of what we do is what truly matters. Wins/losses, personal improvement, love of the sport, state records and beyond are certainly very substantial portions of our activities.

But, it’s the people, the faces, the voices, the humor, the personalities, the shared stories. It’s the struggles, the injuries, the perseverance, the bad races or games that lead to the team coming around the individual. What is missing the most is just a shared experience. We don’t have the ability to have that right now.

And that brief moment of seeing just one of the many individuals on our team, one of the many individuals that I love so much, cemented every one of those emotions.

As a runner, I’m going to keep running. As a coach, I’m going to keep coaching. As a human being who needs community, I’m going to keep mourning the inability to be around the very group of people who are doing those very same things.

And, that’s okay. I’ve shed tears through this ordeal. I’ll shed more. It’ll be heartbreaking to potentially not be able to see the results of all of the hard work that the kids have put in. It’ll be exceptionally heartbreaking to potentially see that for our seniors.

I absolutely believe though, like in all things, that there is a very real purpose behind all of this. I believe that we are going to grow in tremendous ways because of the current situations. We’re going to grow as individuals through this, and ultimately we’re going to grow collectively through this.

There are controllable and uncontrollable things in life. I believe the uncontrollable generally outnumber the controllable, and if we take care of the controllable in the proper way then we’ve prepared ourselves to begin moving through the uncontrollable.

We are reminded in Hebrews to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. To run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

The time we are living in at the current moment is the race. Perseverance and endurance will be key components of racing and finishing well. So, let’s throw the junk off, let’s step out of and away from the sin that entangles, and get busy running this race together.

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