I absolutely adore the kid.
In fairness, I adore every young athlete I’ve ever trained, though.
I’m one of ‘those’ Coaches.
Gave everything I had to each and every one of the young athletes I
had the privilege of working with.
No matter how talented or committed, I consider it an honor to touch
the lives of young people and help mold them as both athletes and
But over the years, admittedly, some of them stood out.
Austin was one of them.
A personality, disposition and smile that lit up a room.
A tenacious work ethic that was unmatched.
Without hesitation, I can tell you that the days I trained Austin were
days that I got out of bed with more excitement and purpose.
He was just one of those kids that worked his tail off for you.
No matter what you put in front of him, he would smile, say something
like "let’s do this" and attack the exercise like a fly to a pile of dung.
Special kid in every way.
That’s why when his father died suddenly this past summer, I felt compelled
to take care of him.
Now let me explain something, Austin isn’t the kind of kid who needs to
be taken care of.
In fact, I watched with amazement at his own father’s funeral, this 17
year old kid remain composed while he walked around the room taking
the time to console other people – most of whom where at least
twice his age.
But I also know we all have breaking points and I was very careful to
stay near him that day and look for signs of him breaking down
Like most funerals, the day was marked with moments of sadness and
sparked with funny stories that provided some much needed levity.
Speeches were made, memories offered and as the day wound down,
I felt a sense of relief that Austin seemed to have gotten through the
ceremony virtually unscathed.
Of course he was saddened by the sudden loss of his father, but there
he was, lighting up the room with that smile of his and taking care of
other people with the same zeal and tenacity that I had come to expect
of him as an athlete.
Customarily, the guests started to form a line in order to walk past Austin
and his Mom giving a final word of support and express there condolences.
I watched him shake hands, accept words of sorrow, offer the odd hug and
generally be that stalwart young man I had known him to be.
But when I got to the front of the line, I stood in front of a kid I no longer
The warm smile was gone.
The big personality vacant.
I was looking at a young man in pain.
And in a moment, I realized how sacred the Coach-Athlete relationship
"I love you, Coach. What am I going to do without my Dad?"
Typing those words out causes me to relive exactly how I felt in that
It brings back every emotion.
Austin had thrown his arms around me and buried his head in my chest.
He was crying uncontrollably and I instinctively hugged him back hard trying
to show without saying anything at all that he was safe.
"It’s going to be okay, Austin. You’ve got a great family, tons of supportive
friends and a wonderful head on your shoulders. It may not feel like it
right now, but you’re going to be fine"
I looked around at all the faces in the crowd. Every one of them focused
And they all portrayed a feeling of relief. Almost like they were happy
to see that this sturdy young man finally was breaking down the way
they all knew he needed to.
I held Austin for a few more minutes and we agreed that it would be
best for us to ‘hang out’ together some over the next few weeks.
And that’s exactly what we did.
We trained together.
Watched a couple of movies.
In fact, he even came over to the house several mornings a week so he
could eat some of Sara’s special ‘Peanut Butter Chocolate Oatmeal’.
Austin left for college a few weeks later.
He had regained his swagger, that big smile and was certainly ready to
attack school with the same vigor he displayed in my training sessions.
I spent my 2008 summer taking care of a young athlete who needed
more than a better bench press.
And in all my years of coaching, I don’t think I ever used my time for
a better purpose.
Austin called me yesterday.
He’s back in town and looking forward to ‘hanging out’ during his break
I can’t wait myself.
The IYCA is more than a fitness organization who educates professionals.
It’s an international family.
And our job is significantly more profound than to enhance the performance
of the young athletes we work with.
I’d love to know what you think about my experience with Austin.
I’d also love to hear about any stories you may have that are similar to
I’m off to go Christmas shopping with Austin….