One of the many questions I have been asked about many times is how did you manage to be a long distance runner? Truthfully, I asked myself that question too. What comes to mind is how rivalry coaches came together to work as they saw my dedication to break barriers in both running and social settings. Since the beauty of inclusion is being able to accept and learn about individual differences and strengths my coach, Jim Adams, and the neighboring school’s coach, John Casserly, collaborated and were the first two adults to make this happen in the running circles.
It started with John Casserly asking me if I have ever thought about joining cross-country. He knew of my mom’s love for running and figured she had already asked me, but he asked me anyway. The conversation went deeper and he added “I think your determination and caring for others would make you a great candidate for cross-country.” After having a similar conversation with my parents I decided to go sign up. I am proud to say Jim Adams, my school’s cross-country coach, echoed everything Coach Casserly had told me and he couldn’t have been more accommodating to me. I will always remember my first race where both coaches gave me a high five and then offered advice on what to improve on for my next race. They knew I was never going to be a fast runner but both understood the need for me to be pushed.
As the season progressed my relationship became very strong with Coach Adams, and Coach Casserly continued to be a strong support to us. One of the most memorable moments for me was during a varsity only meet when I was feeling out of place. I was the only girl with a bunch of boys and Coach Casserly told Coach Adams that I could join the girls on his team to get ready so my coach could focus on the guys race. This was so touching. While Coach Adams was so incredible to me, he had already spent a lot of time helping me prepare for the race as my NVLD severely impacted my fine motor skills and the boys on my team needed the attention of their coach now. That moment was a great reminder of how hard the cross-country season was going to be, although it did send the message that everyone, regardless of ability, is welcome in the running circle.
As I stayed with cross-country I began to see how special my relationship with these two coaches was. Race after race I could feel their support. One of the biggest challenges for me was my poor sense of direction and this no doubt caused headaches and worries for Jim. However, he would laugh it off and cope through it all as he knew I was ashamed of this part of my disability. On occasion I was forced to drop out of races and at other times I ended up running four miles instead of three as I would get lost. Furthermore, John was the coach who would do whatever he could to find a solution for Jim and me and truthfully if there was one he would help us find it. These coaches continued to believe in me no matter what and also knew I couldn’t be the teammate I wanted to be. Looking back, my obstacles and determination led to very special relationships with these two incredible coaches.
Jim’s excellent coaching and mentoring allowed me to be a three season runner. While all my track coaches were wonderful to me, Jim made it possible for me to run all but two events. Before I ran for him, the longest I could run was the 200. What was special about this achievement was how John’s incredible care was constant. Yes, some days the challenges were intense but thanks to all of my coaches I developed incredible relationships and learned to never give up.
Through this experience it’s my hope that today’s youth reading this will join an activity that they find challenging. In many cases for NVLD students, the best relationships are formed from overcoming obstacles. Going the extra mile often brings out the best in you and the adults involved can see the “true” you. This happened for me and, in fact, Jim Adams and John Casserly became personal friends in my adulthood. For these reasons, I have faith you too can find special adults like them and you will realize that inclusion can work amazingly well, should you decide to go after something that is challenging.
I will always love Jim Adams and John Casserly!Share your own story