The man who taught me to love running passed away last night. Robert Eck: my English teacher, college-bound-and-anxious high school senior adviser, mentor and coach.
“Here he comes!” Someone on our measly 6-person cross country team would shout. Like clockwork we’d all snap into shape, picking up speed and trying to look fit.
He’d pull up alongside us in his Jeep. Windows down, cigarette in hand. “Hi Mr. Eck!” We’d yell. He’d check in to make sure we were all alive and continue off.
“I feel sick to my stomach,” I complained to him as we were boarding the bus to my first-ever cross-country meet in Wildwood, N.J. Maybe if I tell him I am sick he’ll say I shouldn’t run. “Yeah – that happens,” he said. “Once I coached a kid who had to puke before every race. Whatever works for ya.”
Welp – that plan bombed.
Thanks for teaching me to throw out excuses. Thank you for always seeing more in me than I saw in myself. Thank you for forcing me to push myself through the hard times to get to the goals I dream of. Thank you for your countless stories. Thank you for always leaving your door open, no matter what the season.
I only was able to run with you for a few years, but what you taught me I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I ran my first marathon last weekend, I thought of you when the going got tough. I pictured you crouched along the side of the course, calmly checking in and then telling me what I needed to do. “Pass two girls in red,” or “half a mile until the hill.” The messages were only slightly different in my imagination as I strove to accomplish a dream I’ve been pursuing for the past year. As I crossed the finish I remembered how excited we were when we won the South Jersey Championships. I don’t think we were as proud of the title as we were of the smile on your face.
I hope you’re smiling now. I hope you know that you inspired everyone that walked through – or ran though – the doors of Pitman High School. You taught us to write, to read, to run, to dream. To be ourselves. I hope my future children have someone just like you.
Mr. Eck, it’s a beautiful day for a run. I’ve got miles to go and I know you’ll be with me through all of them.
Thank you for everything,