Running with heart.

ImageSeeing this the other day triggered a forgotten, but crystal-clear memory of something my high school track coach told me. In running, we tend to emphasize the physical training and the mental discipline. Both are critical, but they don’t add up to 100%. Your heart has to be in it too.

The memory prompted me to google my coach, Mr. Warren Booth. I came across a fascinating interview with the public library, part of a new millennium project about changes in Monmouth County as seen by long-time residents. He coached track and basketball at Red Bank Regional High School his entire career ( He has since passed away, but I was glad to see that a scholarship had been established in his name.

The Coach Booth I remember had a booming voice and far more confidence in our small rag-tag team of girls than any of us had in ourselves. It never occurred to me to be surprised when he talked about his college days, but for a black man born in 1929, it’s notable that he and his three brothers all graduated from college. He always wore a suit and tie, although he traded the jacket for a navy blue shop coat when he taught shop classes.

He’d take anyone on the team who wanted to run, and a few who didn’t even want to do that. Our team was so small that each of us did the maximum number of events to compete against larger teams. I was an average runner, but versatile enough to win points where we had opportunities. [I’m pretty sure I was the only 5’4″ high jumper at the Central Jersey Regionals in 1988.]

I wish I could remember the context–I can’t even say for sure whether it came after a good finish or one of the disappointing ones.

What he said was this: “Steph, you will never be a star. You’re tough and you run smart. But when I see you put your heart into it, you are unbeatable.”

When I was 16, all I heard was the first part of what he said, and I remember the sting. The rest didn’t make sense to me. Other girls out-ran me all the time, and only rarely did I finish first. Twenty-six years later, I recognize the compliment and understand what he was trying to tell me. Thanks, Coach.

4 thoughts on “Running with heart.

    • Thanks! When I started track, I didn’t love my coach–he spent most of his time with our sprinters–but I came to appreciate him much more as time went on, and so much more as an adult. I’m a little sad that I can’t re-connect with him now and tell him.

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