It’s funny where your mind will wander when you’re running by yourself.
Amy and I tend to be attached at the hip when it comes to running, so it’s not often that I’m out in the park solo on a Sunday. But this morning found me zipping somewhat speedily through endless loops and circles near the local high school. And the feeling I always get during a really great run is GRATITUDE. I am so incredibly thankful to have this healthy body and mind that craves running and doesn’t give out on me (very often, anyway). Grateful always turns quickly to thoughts on who got me here: to this park, early on an overcast Sunday morning, busting out 9ish minute miles while music blares in my ears.
The list is long, of course.
But today? It was all about Carole Scanes.
Coach Scanes took a group of gangly, goofy high school girls in the late 1990’s and created Ferndale High School’s tennis team. We were terrible. For real. The Bellingham Herald printed high school athletic scores in the newspaper each day; pages of my high school scrapbook are filled with them, simply because my name was in print. Somebody should have told me to stop doing this, as you will find (if you’re ever craving a trip down memory lane via my scrapbook) page after page of cut-and-paste losing tennis scores. Schools with better tennis programs could barely muster the enthusiasm to trounce us, BUT. We had Coach Scanes, this little slip of a gal, who–at what couldn’t have been more than 4’11”–threw her heart and soul in to training us. Many of us had never picked up a tennis racket, let alone understood the rules of the game, but this was no matter to her.
Girls Tennis was a Spring sport, so somewhere around the end of February, she would gather all of us on the windy, often rainy, tennis courts after school, and practice endless drills with us. We ran lines. We learned scoring and serving techniques and took endless shots from the ball machine. One notable afternoon, immediately after taking a shot from the machine at the baseline, I was sprinting forward to (in my mind) effortlessly slam the next shot right at the net, when I ended up taking a tennis ball right smack between the eyes.
I regained consciousness just as my best friend Rikki was about to dump the contents of the Gatorade cooler over my face.
These were the girls she had to work with.
We were small in number and incredibly low on the sports totem pole at FHS, so when we traveled away to let other schools cream us on their own courts, we didn’t warrant a school bus. We piled in to two awful, smelly, boat-like Chevy Suburbans. They were pale blue, printed with ‘Property of Ferndale School District’ (in case you were thinking of stealing them?) and to say that they were old is a gross understatement. We’d climb in and, once she knew everyone was situated, Coach crawled up in to the driver’s seat…how did she drive that beast without sitting on a phone book? I’ll never know. Being one of the older and (in my mind) cooler members of the team, I traveled in the van driven by Coach and containing all of my dear friends, each of us with our own particular scent of Bath and Body Works lotion tucked in our duffel bag. We turned that adolescent-musty-boy smell lingering in the van in to what had to be the most sickeningly sweet version of fruit salad EVER, and yet, Coach was always smiling. Like it was her privilege to drive us to Lynden or Burlington or Bellingham and watch us get killed on the tennis courts.
Yes, before going anywhere, she’d turn to grin at all of us. We were like her kids. We were loud, smart-mouthed, nervous, and, as mentioned above, we smelled cloyingly sweet. We were anxious about playing singles or doubles or exactly how bad that score would look in the newspaper tomorrow, but there was Coach, grinning at us. “Ready to roll?” she’d ask. She believed we could do it.
Or, as I reflect on this now in adulthood, it’s more likely that she knew we couldn’t possibly win. She just didn’t care. She wanted us to have the experience of getting out there on the court, sprinting and scrambling for serves we would never return, lobs we would smash beyond the fence, and–every once in awhile–that stunning shot that actually came from OUR SIDE OF THE NET. It was those moments, really, that Coach got us ready for. Doing something amazing when we didn’t think we could. No matter how many games she was monitoring from outside the chain link fence, she rarely missed our (admittedly few) moments of glory. She had her sunglasses and her clipboard and her tennis skirt (none of us had heard of tennis skirts prior to meeting Coach, and we were all appropriately awed by them) and she would give us that smile that was full of pride.
We were her girls.
She let us stop at McDonalds on the way back from our matches because why not add the smell of french fries to the permanent stench coming from the back seat? She talked about the highlights of our matches from behind what looked like a gigantic steering wheel, while we ate cheeseburgers and giggled and groaned about losing again.
She led us in strength training in the gym on days that were too rainy to practice outside. It rained every single day in April of my junior year. Coach, desperate for something to keep us busy, and no doubt sick of entertaining 16 squirrely high school girls in a muggy gym for the 12th day in a row, decided one day to teach us some hybrid sequence of yoga and Pilates stretches. Bridge pose was ultimately her undoing. Imagine, if you will, 16 hormonal and slightly bored high school girls raising their hips up and down in unison, led by a spunky and slightly clueless blessing of a Coach shouting out verbal cues such as ‘up and down ladies!’ and ‘squeeze those rear ends!’. She completely lost us. Just…wheels off the bus. I don’t remember who called out the most inappropriate comment (my money is on Rikki) but we were no longer bridging, we were shaking with laughter. Red faces, giggles turned to howls, and Coach.
“Girls.” (Very stern.)
“Girls! LADIES.” (Losing the stern.)
“Oh for…” (She couldn’t help it. She was totally blushing and losing her cool. She laughed right along with us. Then we went to find something else to do.)
I don’t remember any yoga/Pilates exercises after that day.
I have nothing but fond memories of Coach Scanes. She invited all of us tennis stars (looking back, I realize we were all just a big bunch of nerds) to her yearly summer BBQ at her house. It was very hip to be invited to a teacher’s house. I still have the awful, tacky, gold plate I won at some competition at her summer party. She took pictures of us out on the courts and even hired me to help teach the Summer Enrichment tennis class for elementary schoolers. (No doubt she was thinking it would be nice to start grooming some potential winners from a young age.) She brought us snacks and made us sit out when the sun got to us and turned our faces in to glowing red tomatoes and monitored our grades to make sure our academics weren’t slipping. She tried really hard to admonish us when the talk in the van got especially raunchy. And one time? Because she likely had a screw loose somewhere? She took us to a tennis tournament on a Saturday at Whidbey Island High School. Yes. 16 girls. 2 dilapidated vans. A ferry ride and all that lotion smell. One kid who got seasick. (Me.) An entire weekend day she would never get back.
It was epic and one of my very favorite, fun days from high school. I still remember it like it was yesterday. We ate too many cupcakes and pretzels in the back seat of the van and talked about sex. It was the stuff of teenagerdom.
And it was all orchestrated by this tiny little force field we called Coach. I’m quite certain she never got paid what she deserved and she devoted far more time to our ragged little team than she probably should have. She was our mother hen and the person we wanted most to please while out on the tennis court. She gave us something constructive to work towards in the days of adolescence when it would have been all to easy to fall off the map or find other, far more unhealthy ways to spend our time.
So thank you, Coach. I want to find you and tell you that, in some ways, I am a runner today because you proved that if you want to do something, you CAN. Doesn’t mean you’ll do it well, but you can still try. It won’t be pretty and it sure as hell won’t be easy and some days it will feel worse than getting car sick in the back of a school district SUV, but in the end it will be WORTH IT.
Rikki and I are running a 250 mile relay this summer. Because why not? You taught us that piling in to a large van with most of your friends and setting off for adventure can be the very best way to spend your time.