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My Coach

April 5, 2011

My coach (Back, far right) and I (Back, 3rd from right) during the 2003 track season

This past Sunday Dr. D. Bruce Lockerbie gave a sermon during our weekly worship service entitled, “Running the Race and Finishing Strong” in which he gave an illustration of a life lived for Christ by telling the story of our beloved Robin Lingle.  Toward the end of his time he alluded to a retirement party for Robin, held at the Three Village Inn on May 31, 2006.  With Robin’s brain cancer worsening, the emotional night had the added air of finality to it for all of the former and present faculty in attendance.  I was asked to say some words about Robin that night and I was grateful for the opportunity to tell my coach how much he meant to me.  Here is what I said that night:

I think some of my fondest memories of running for Robin Lingle were the final stretches of big races.  Whether I was coming out of the woods on the heels of the leader or on the backstretch of the final lap of the mile, there was one thing for which I waited.  When it came suddenly the lactic acid in my legs did not burn as much, adrenaline would begin pumping through my veins and my speed would increase.  This “thing” had almost magical properties.  What I am referring to, of course, is the excited, high-pitched yell of Mr. Lingle.  If ever you have been to a cross country race or track meet at Stony Brook you have heard it.  When I heard him I found the strength to persevere as his encouragement pulled me forward.  I don’t know if I can take credit for some of my times because most of them I did not run alone.

Running for Robin Lingle is one of the most memorable experiences of my time at Stony Brook.  For three years I had the privilege of learning under this great coach who was a guiding influence on me as a runner.  He taught me how to pace myself, use strategy in a race and dig down and demand a little more of myself.  He spent countless hours with me, as well as the team, every day after school and nearly every Saturday of the fall and spring, taking us to meets from around Long Island to Philadelphia so we could gain experience in big races.  He worked with us and sacrificed for us so that we could realize our full potential, challenging us with the words, “Good better best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is your best.”

Robin Lingle pushed me to never be satisfied with myself but to continually tap my God-given abilities as an act of worship to the Lord.  Countless races stick out in my mind when this challenge and his encouragement pulled me on when it would have been easier to ease up and seek relief from the pain.  I remember one race in particular at Mattituck high school during my junior year.

It was the 4×800 meter relay, the final event of the day.  The meet was well in hand and I had already run three events that meet.  I was the anchor leg and when I got the baton the Tuckers had a lead of 100 meters on us.  Before I got the baton I looked at coach, expecting him to take a glance at the seemingly insurmountable deficit and tell me to take it easy and save it for another day.  What he said was, “Make up 1/3 of the distance on the first lap and 2/3 of the distance on the second lap.”  That day I realized what it meant to always challenge myself and to never settle because God’s gifts should be used to their fullest.  After I passed the leader around the final turn and beat him out to the finish line I saw Mr. Lingle smile and say, “I never ask you to do the impossible.”

That may be the greatest illustration of what Robin Lingle was for me as my coach.  He never asked me to do the impossible but believed in me and challenged me to be the best I could be.  He never allowed me to be complacent or to rest on my achievements but to continue to strive, much in the same way our Father never asks us to do the impossible.  Our Father knows our limitations and would never ask us to go beyond what we are capable.  However, as my dad has said, “God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay that way.”  God challenges us as well, in our relationship with him, in our relationships with others and in every aspect of our lives so that we may become the men and women He has called us to be.  In this way Robin Lingle was a tremendous example of godliness for me.

When I ran for Robin Lingle I also felt like I was a part of something bigger, that I was a part of a long history that he was part of as well.  It may come as a surprise to some of you, but Robin Lingle loves to tell stories and I loved hearing tales of the legendary Marvin Goldberg and of great races and runners of the past, feeling that I was a part of that same tradition.  I never felt this more than when I ran at the Penn Relays.

The first year a Stony Brook mile relay team ran at the Relays was in 1927, one year after the Stony Brook track team was founded.  In 1949 Stony Brook brought home the first of eight 1st place plaques that now hang in Swanson Gymnasium.  There have been only thirty-three men who have won gold for Stony Brook in the seventy-nine years we have been running at the Penn Relays.  Robin Lingle is one of them and I am proud to say that I am one as well.  It is a great honor to be a part of the same tradition as such a great man.

But if I have learned one thing from Robin Lingle it is that medals tarnish. Robin Lingle would agree with the poet A.E. Housman when he said, “Early though the laurel grows it withers quicker than the rose.”  Laurels shrivel and accolades can only conjure up memories of past glories that will eventually fade into time.  What matters is the kind of person you are, the character you live by and the person you live for.  This more than anything is what I learned from Robin Lingle.  He is one of the best examples of godliness and character that I have witnessed and as a result he has greatly impacted my life.  During his time as my coach he was with me literally every step of the way as I grew both as a runner and as a person.  Had it not been for him I would have never become the kind of runner I was, but more importantly, I would have never become the kind of man I am.

He always reminded me of the importance of humility because all our gifts come from the Lord.  He taught me the importance of giving everything I had, not for myself, but for God and for my teammates.  He taught me how to lose gracefully, to respect others and to run in such a way that, win or lose, I could be proud.  These lessons he instilled in me I will hold onto because long after our races are forgotten what matters is how we ran, whom we ran for and the footprints we have left behind.  Thank you for everything coach.

My coach passed away 4 years ago today on April 5, 2007, but his life continues in those he touched.

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