Sunday, October 13, 2013

Adventures of Coach Lewis

I’m sitting on a charter bus, listening to the conversation, laughter, and musical stylings of about 30 BFA high school students. For this weekend’s athletic road trip, the 25 girls of the volleyball team joined with the 7 runners of the cross-country team (5 girls and 2 boys) to travel the Autobahn for a competition at the Bitburg Airforce Base (about 6.5 “bus hours” away from Kandern).

Bitburg High School
For me, this was my first time to ever coach/chaperone an overnight meet. Going into this adventure, I wasn’t overly concerned. As a former collegiate runner, I was used to the life of a traveling athlete—staying at comfortable hotels, eating at Italian restaurants, watching TV, and spending time with my teammates doing crossword puzzles in the lobby of the Hampton Inn. I mean, with memories like these, how difficult could an overnight trip be? Piece of cake, right? Wrong! Let’s just say, coaching an athletic team at BFA is not for the faint of heart. :)

In order to preserve the athletic budget for the entirety of the season, BFA opts to spend nights on the military bases. Regretfully, this does not mean on the plush white mattresses of the Hampton. Instead, staying at the base means staying at the high school, in the gymnasium, on the floor. (Or on a wrestling mat, if you’re really brave…)

Armed with Jesse’s yoga mat and Hunter’s extra sleeping bag, I too enjoyed a night’s rest(?) on the hard gym floor at Bitburg. Honestly, by the time we arrived at the base, had our passports checked, got the girls settled in the wrestling room and the boys settled in the open gym, brushed our teeth, and set up our sleeping bags, I was so utterly exhausted that I probably could have slept anywhere!

But just for future reference, don’t park your sleeping bag directly under a lighted exit sign. They’re quite bright and, as I found out the hard way, they don’t turn off at night.

German exit sign
Regardless of my lack of sleep quality, I woke up at 7am (five minutes before my alarm, as usual) bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to coach a fantastic day of cross-country running! We fed the kids a hearty breakfast of whole wheat English muffins, hard-boiled eggs (the Germans sell colored, hard-boiled Easter eggs year-round), peanut butter, granola bars, and bananas. Thankfully, we only had to pack enough food for the XC team. I think I would have been a little overwhelmed if I had to plan for an additional 25 volleyball players.

While the volleyball team left on the charter bus to play at a nearby base, we rode with some Bitburg parent volunteers over to the cross-country course. Nestled among rolling German hills, the Bitburg course meanders peacefully around a beautiful forest lake. Completely flat with smooth footing and beautiful scenery, this course promised to bring good tidings to the BFA cross-country team. The day was cool, crisp, and clear. The runners were healthy and injury-free and this was our last away meet of the season. I felt certain that we were going to snag a few more European qualifying times on such a beautiful morning. 

Beautiful XC Course

 The girls started their race in a blur of excitement and cheers. Since the course was basically one big loop around the lake, I knew that I would not be able to have too many “cheering/coaching” stations. Therefore, I worked out a plan to run the course backwards, meet them about half way to cheer, and then continue on to meet them at the finish line.

At the halfway point, the BFA team was looking strong. Some of my girls were actually smiling as they ran past me. I cheered loudly, as a proud coach should, and then tore off in the other direction, hoping to be able to beat the lead pack back to the finish line.   

I made it to the finish line with time to spare and stood there waiting in anticipation, hoping that each one of my girls might be having the race of her life…hoping that each one might run a European Championship qualifying time. I watched nervously as the numbers of my watch clicked closer and closer to the 25 minute mark, the cut-off for qualification. The first place girl, a runner from Wiesbaden, finished in around 21 minutes…next pack came in at 22 minutes, now 23 minutes…where were my BFA girls?

I watched in disappointment as the clock turned over 24:58, 24:59, 25:00. It was too late. The qualifying mark was gone and I hadn’t seen a single one of my girls. We would not be running at Europeans.

Finally, about a minute and a half later, I saw them. They were coming in strong and in a tighter pack then they had ever run been before. I watched as each of my girls crossed the line all within one minute of each other—a feat that they had never before accomplished. It was an exciting achievement, but I was still feeling frustrated as a coach. What good is it to finish together, if we all finish in the back of the pack? This not only loses races, but it also doesn't get any European qualifiers. Still holding onto my frustration, I walked over to find my team at the finish line.

What I saw next was beautiful. The BFA girls' team had all turned to face one another. They locked arms in a circle and hugged each other in a tight embrace, each girl laughing and smiling in the beauty of the moment. No, they hadn’t run phenomenal times. In fact, they weren’t even close to running their best times…but today, they had achieved a different type of goal. They were a team, they were united, and they had run entirely for one another. I watched them as they smiled and laughed together. I knew then that even if we didn’t qualify, it had still been a successful meet.

My wonderful XC girls, enjoying post-race french fries!


  1. Good story lesson. Sometimes our wishes are not always God's wishes.

  2. As usual, my niece's blog is so exciting to read. Glad you got to go to Bitburg....used to go there a lot with the Soesterberg AFB Women of the Chapel while I lived in The Netherlands. It's a lovely area....but sorry your team didn't qualify for the Europeans. Maybe next year! :-)