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  • Writer's pictureJoan Fernandez

Ready – after Setbacks There’s Hope on the Eve of an Olympic Trial Race

On the eve of the Olympic Track and Field Trials and numerous setbacks hope for another beginning.

On the eve of the Olympic Track and Field Trials and numerous setbacks hope for another beginning

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.  -Vladimir Nabokev

And so I'll try to begin.

The Beginning Fifteen years ago there had been weeks, no months… I guess to be honest it had been a few years… of frustration and failure. We had a boy with a kid's natural athletic talent that couldn't seem to cut a break.

At 11-years-old he'd been on outdoor and indoor soccer teams, played as a catcher on a baseball team, then point guard on a basketball court. But the experiences were not good: A few coaches were truly not knowledgeable, and during baseball season my schedule meant I just couldn't swing getting him to practice on time. I've written recently about how Eric seemed to increasingly lack urgency in his playing. He had decent skills, but the motivation wasn't there. He was falling behind, and I felt guilty.

Then one day he and I were in the car and I spotted a running store. Not a big-box retail sporting goods store but a small storefront for dedicated (some would say obsessive) runners. I remember swinging spontaneously into the parking lot. Eric and I walked in and immediately faced wall-to-wall racks of brightly colored running shoes. A tall, runner-skinny man at the counter asked, "May I help you?"

"I'm looking for a kids' running club," I blurted out, "Does St. Louis have any?"

Silently, the guy looked at me, looked down at Eric, and then slowly tore the length off the end of a receipt. He grabbed a pencil and jotted down a phone number. "Ask for Blair," he said simply, handing me the paper.

That was the beginning.

The Middle Blair turned out to be an amazing volunteer running coach for kids. For the next several years, until Eric got to high school, Blair, and another wonderful coach, Skip, supervised a club where kids could have the fun of running together. In the Blazers Club the kids learned about racing strategy, how to run as a cross-country team, how to pace. 

Eric began to run with his dad. "Sprint up this hill," Juan would direct, and Eric did. His conditioning grew; his legs got stronger, but even more important, an ember of competition sparked within him, and gradually burned brighter.

He learned about the difference between pain (it's uncomfortable) and pain (something's really wrong). He made very close friendships; he learned to tame arrogance. He was fortunate to be mentored by more selfless, smart coaches.  He went on to earn state titles in high school; then at the University of Arkansas became an SEC champion, All-American and earned eight SEC and one national championship rings during his five years of competitive running.

For years I have screamed myself hoarse on the track stands or alongside cross-country courses. Shivered under blankets in the cold or sweltered in the shade of 100-degree-plus days. I know the choking pain of watching a son begin to ever so slightly flail under oxygen debt -- his telltale signs seared into my memory – and how I willed and pleaded and screamed at him just to run – run! -- even as he struggled not to slow while competitors closed in.

I know his faces: The one of deadly concentration, the one of dominion, the one of anguish. I know the nights and mornings of prayer – not for victory, so much as for him to run well. To run smoothly. To run with freedom.

So, why am I writing this? Because we are at another beginning.

Ready Sunday night Eric will compete in a 10k race to try to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials. Shortly after graduating from college he joined a professional running team, Northern Arizona Elite, with the aspiration to set his sights on the Olympics.

He's ready.

Over these past three years he's been injured and retrained, had setbacks and then fought back to even stronger conditioning.  The spirit of this blog is about believing In pushing through boundaries and the edges of limitation. So there you have it: One of my in-house inspirations is poised to toe the line alongside many other very talented runners on Sunday.

I am so very proud.

So, this one's dedicated to you, Eric:

I'm so far ahead of my time; I'm 'bout to start another life, Look behind you, I'm 'bout to pass you twice!

Hova (Jay Z)

You're ready, son.

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