I'm up in Mammoth with my team this week. The weather is pitch perfect and so far there hasn't been a forest fire to destroy air quality. Being a coach in the modern age means a list of duties and obligations my high school and college coaches would never have dreamed of adding to their to-do lists.
For instance, in my coaching bag (the wondrous 2005 Tour de France yellow bag Bob Babbitt purchased as a gift during our time together on that Tour) are spare uniforms, a bag of safety pins, two lacrosse balls, athletic tape, three stopwatches, band-aids, ibuprofen, a whistle, hair ties, a roll of extra toilet paper for races when the porta pottie supply is spent, and baby wipes for when TP just isn't enough. I'm pretty sure none of my coaches carried much more than a container of Vaseline as blister protection. Baby wipes and scrunchies for those wild hair days would have been out of the question.
Another of my duties is social media. Always a fine line when you're writing about, and posting pictures of, teenagers. But I keep it clean and try to find the most flattering pictures possible. For inspiration and new ideas, I also follow loads of other coaches, teams, and athletes from the high school to Olympic level on social media. And although it is a very bad habit, I've been known to fixate on my phone, searching Instagram when I should be paying attention to the world around me.
Which is how I came upon a post that stole, word for word, a paragraph about my runners I posted in my blog awhile back. It came under the heading of why I coach:
My reward is that look of elation on the faces of my athletes or team when they do something unexpected. A win, a personal best, beating a runner from another school they'd never beaten before...I'll take the responsibility for the losses, because that means I did not properly prepare them. But the victories are theirs, and theirs alone.
I am flattered, of course. My friend J.T. Ayers used the same quote at his team's awards banquet last spring, making sure to attribute the quote to me by name. But yesterday's posting by a coach who shall remain nameless felt like a cross between theft and violation. All he had to do was add a little tag line at the end, stating the name of the guy who actually poured this heartfelt moment of honesty from his soul. But the truth is our schools are just five miles away. And while I don't consider them to be our rivals, we're in the same local recruiting pool of distance runners. So it sure would be awkward for the guy to admit he's trying to inspire his runners by stealing his inspirational quote from the coach down the street whose much smaller school takes great pleasure in beating his teams year in and year out.
Not sure what to do with that, other than ask him to take it down — which I did, and which hasn't happened. Weird, weird, weird. I know, I know: it's flattering for someone to steal your stuff. Comedians do it all the time. But I don't think I can look at the guy the same way again. That quote was a paean to my runners, young men and women with whom I've shared countless hours of battle and tears. To see another team take it as their own, pretending their ties that bind are the same as ours, is profoundly unsettling.
In the end, I have to let it go. I am extremely prickly these days, an unforeseen aftershock of my mother passing. I feel put upon, angry, indecisive, and worst of all, snide and snarky — two emotions defining the worst in human nature. It's like I've quietly been keeping score my whole life, and feel the need to unburden myself of every last trivial grudge. It's not catharsis; it's self-pity.
My wife tells me this is not the right time to make big decisions. So even as I contemplate what life looks like when the Killing books are done (a couple more to go), and debate whether I want to do the predictable and start a podcast or build more of a speaking career (I can think of nothing more unattractive than flying to distant cities with the sole intent of delivering a narrative to a crowd of strangers), I'm wallowing in this gray area. The salvation, as always, is sitting down to put words on the page each day. And coaching. If I put my emotions about coaching on the internet I should not be surprised then they are stolen, or perhaps turned into a meme. So I'm just going to work on getting over myself and waiting until it's time to make big decisions.