“It’s a great day to be young and alive!” – Larry Steeb
I didn’t think it was such a great day. Cold rain pattered down on this 14-year-old’s body. My clothes were soggy, probably weighing as much as my skinny body.
What did I get myself into? I could have been sitting at home under a blanket, playing video games. At the very least, I would have been dry.
After running 10 or 15 minutes, the negative voices in my head began to quiet. And then it hit me. This isn’t so bad! After a while, I even enjoyed myself.
Mr. Steeb was right – it really was a great day to be young and alive!
This was the first lesson Coach Steeb instilled in me. Suck it up. Sure, I could have been dry and comfortable at home, but I wasn’t. I was out running, challenging myself. I was doing a good thing and might as well make the most of it.
Mr. Steeb taught me true optimism. Not the sort of optimism that tries to make things seem better than they really are, but the optimism to truly appreciate the good in a situation. We are confronted with many imperfect situations in life. We can respond by complaining and moping, or we can make the best of the situation. Mr. Steeb taught me to choose the latter, which has made my life much more enjoyable.
To be honest, I wasn’t a very good runner at this point. From a team talent standpoint, Mr. Steeb had little to gain in teaching me these skills. But that didn’t matter. Mr. Steeb treated everybody well, from the state champion, to the talented freshman phenom, even to the average runner (me) who only joined the team because he was good friends with the talented freshman. He didn’t care. Even as the least talented runners approached the finish line after 30 minutes of snail’s pace, Mr. Steeb was still supporting and pushing them.
Sometimes his all-inclusive style worked from a coaching standpoint. I improved substantially and pocketed more than a few medals as my running career progressed. But more often we average runners did not help Mr. Steeb win any meets. And that was fine with him. Mr. Steeb’s teams felt more like friendly environments to learn and improve than competitive athletic teams.
But his teams displayed an almost paradoxical dichotomy. Despite the nurturing environment, Mr. Steeb’s teams may have been the most challenging and competitive I’ve ever played on. As I improved, so did the running standards Coach Steeb held me to. Practices took on a new, demanding form. For the top runners, the once calm, laid-back practices became intense workouts.
Mr. Steeb’s wisdom extended far past the cross country course. He taught us to focus and prepare, whether for a meet or any other life event. It was a bit childish, but Coach Steeb gave us lists of everything we should pack for the upcoming meet. The idea was that we should pack everything the evening before, sparing us from the early morning scrambling that unsettles most people. To this day, I still utilize Mr. Steeb’s preparation technique. I find myself relaxed and ready to go while others are frantic, stressed and unprepared. This does wonders for the mind and soul.
Mr. Steeb also taught me restraint. He had a vendetta against soda pop. Carbonated beverages release air bubbles into your body, lowering your lung capacity. You can imagine why Mr. Steeb didn’t want runners drinking pop. But many young kids are addicted to pop, and I was no exception. However, I wanted to be the best runner I could be. So I followed Mr. Steeb’s advice and gave up pop completely. This did help my running, but there was a larger impact. Mr. Steeb taught me that I will never have to fear addiction. I gave up pop, something I liked very much. I now know I will never have a problem with alcohol, drugs, smoking or coffee.
Finally, I remember Coach Steeb could somehow cover an entire 3.1 mile cross country course. You could be in the most remote woodsy section of a course. Nobody could possibly make it to this hidden part of the course. It must be safe to slacken the pace for a bit! But Mr. Steeb saw all. Within seconds, you’d hear yelling reminding you that you’ve fallen from your pace. Today when I run, I still expect to hear his yelling if I start slacking. So I don’t.
Regardless of how bad your day might have been, today is a great day to be young and alive. You are truly lucky to have your physical abilities. Now go out and enjoy a nice run!
This article was first published in the Ann Arbor News, March 5, 2007.