With National Student-Athlete Day being in April, I think about how lucky I am to have been coached by you, Penny. It truly allowed me to be a student-athlete which is unusual for someone like me who has an NVLD. There was never a day where you weren’t supporting me and making sure I always had equal opportunities. I know it wasn’t always easy, and I greatly appreciate how far out of your way you went for me.
One thing that comes to mind is that it was clear I had gross motor skills deficits, given how low my endurance was. This made practices even harder for me, and as a result, there were so few events that you could put me in. Fortunately, for whatever reason, you still enjoyed having me on the team, and you always made sure I was doing my best. This encouragement motivated me to train harder, and after a couple of years, I finally became a distance runner. All of this happened because I knew you were an incredible supporter of mine and how you believed in me, and you always had a love for my “Yes, I can” attitude. As a result, I wanted to keep being on the team. I knew if I had ever left the track team, I would have also lost so much of your support.
By choosing to become a distance runner rather than leaving the team, I began to understand what you meant when you said: “that everyone brings something special to the team regardless of your ability.” For me, this was to run whatever race you needed me to do, be the hardest worker, and be a role model to the younger runners. Doing these things truly gave me the strength and courage to never say no to you, as I wanted to be successful in this role, just like everything else I took part in. I was successful, and I hope you realize this happened because of your deep love of my excellent work ethic and determination. Since it allowed me to see what I was offering to the team, which made me understand you were right. I was a great student-athlete. It truly speaks volumes about how incredible a coach and person you are.
Understanding my role also allowed me to have a wide support system that meant so much to us. With my Mom being a resource room teacher and my Dad being a school counselor, we were aware that it is common for students facing similar challenges to have few mentors and friends. This was something we didn’t want to experience, and you went out of your way to make sure it didn’t. Your confidence and faith in me led to my meeting so many people, and I realized in sports like track every, everyone supports each other regardless of their ability. This wouldn’t have been possible without you seeing the true me.
Also, while this isn’t directly connected to my NVLD deficits, I will never forget how many times you needed to step away from your traditional coaching duties to care for me. I was so aware that my needs were taking away from you coaching my teammates as they too needed your guidance and support. Having an NVLD, I was already experiencing emotional issues, which only triggered it more. However, you always were so reassuring that what my teammates cared the most about was that I would be okay. This made me realize you were right about that and also made me more relaxed.
To those with an NVLD or a similar disability, understand you can be a great student-athlete. Work ethic, determination, being a great teammate, and being a great listener are what coaches truly look for, especially in a sport like track. Therefore I believe if you can exhibit these qualities, you will be a great student-athlete as everyone brings something special to their teams. In addition, your drive and dedication towards your academics will increase too as you develop the drive to be the best person you can be. The support you get from your coaches and teammates will be so much more than you realize. For me personally, Penny continues to be an incredible support years later. I strongly believe if you are now or become a student-athlete, you and the coach would have this same type of relationship.
I so believe my track sets an outstanding example of how inclusion in sports works!