Megan’s First Blog

For Beatrix – By Megan Lawrence

A note: This is intimately personal and acutely painful. It describes our family’s experience with infant loss and how it relates to the coronavirus pandemic.

Like many families, ours is living in fear of the spread of coronavirus because our daughter, Alexis, is immunocompromised and would undoubtedly require oxygen support or a ventilator to survive if she were to get it or any other respiratory virus in the foreseeable future. My husband Noah wrote about this on his blog and in a letter to his track team, in the effort to explain why social distancing and the suspension of their season was such an important sacrifice. In it, he also mentions our daughter, Beatrix, Alexis’s identical twin sister who tragically passed away just after their first birthday. Beatrix was sick in the hospital for a month before she died, having developed pneumonia then ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). It is utterly terrifying to know that we are facing a respiratory virus turned pandemic having just lost a child to a similar cause of death.

As a grieving mother, I cannot adequately explain how traumatic and agonizing the experience of her death was and has been, or how it has fundamentally changed us and the fabric of our family. While Noah has written much about it, I have shared little about our experiences with the twins’ 3-month NICU stay, subsequent hospital stays or even Beatrix’s illness or death. The loss of a child is excruciating and sharing intimate reflections on it is not something I ever anticipated doing for anyone, let alone the wider world. However, the more I have read about coronavirus, the drastic measures being taken in hospitals due to ventilator supply shortages and the failure of our government to adequately prepare for and prevent it from spreading, I wanted to share our experience with the hope it would be one more motivator for people to stay home and stay healthy.

Think about the people you know and love and think about how they will die. How do you want to remember it? How will it change you? Will you have any regrets? It is heartwarming to imagine everyone dies peacefully, in old age, surrounded by family. In the grips of a pandemic, we no longer have that luxury. Imagining someone’s death sounds extreme or even taboo, but bear in mind that Beatrix died despite our having the best possible scenario for the worst possible situation and I will carry that pain forever. We had every advantage and medical intervention available and we couldn’t save her. In the panic of the last few days and weeks, recommendations have been made for stockpiling food, avoiding crowds, etc., but more needs to be shared about what it is like to have a loved one who is sick with coronavirus because I believe that would convince more people to take this seriously, stay home and implore those on the fence to do so too.

When Beatrix was sick, we were fortunate to have every advantage: excellent health insurance, time off work, admission to a large teaching hospital that was a 25 minute drive away, an amazing PICU staff, 24/7 access to Beatrix’s room, the ability to participate in the medical team’s daily rounds, a loving network of family and friends to help us with childcare and meals, access to the local Ronald McDonald House, and more. All of these privileges lightened the immense emotional trauma associated with Beatrix’s hospitalization, but the most meaningful and cherished aspect of our experience was that we were with our baby as she died. We held her, sang to her, told her we loved her and kissed her as much as we could. Her sisters were there to see her one last time. We were surrounded by family. It is a moment etched into my soul. We celebrated her life with a meaningful visitation and a beautiful funeral service attended by family and friends from near and far. Our hearts will forever be torn open but these events provided us a semblance of closure I am so grateful to have had, because they have helped to fortify us as we seek to move forward.

To know that little or none of what we were blessed to have would be available for those who are sick with or ultimately die from coronavirus is heartbreaking. Keep in mind that you can’t cure a virus, just provide medical interventions and health support while it runs its course. This can take WEEKS. Think about it. No bedside visits. No holding your scared child as they get diapered, bathed, have endless blood draws, get x-rays or receive respiratory therapy by strange people in hazmat suits. No ability to comfort them in the middle of the night when they wake up confused and afraid. No regular communication with doctors and nurses because they are working day and night to care for everyone else. Likewise, no hugs, kisses, last conversations or declarations of love shared with parents or grandparents who die because of the virus. Funerals and burials will likely be delayed to prevent new outbreaks. It is a beast who has shown little mercy and we shouldn’t expect it.

I have many painful memories of Beatrix’s illness but the hardest to think about is the afternoon and evening she was admitted to the hospital. That morning I knew she was sick and took her to the pediatrician who told me almost immediately we needed to go to the ER. They were expecting us and she was immediately seen by a team of doctors and nurses who started treating her with oxygen and fluids and performing diagnostic tests before moving her up to the PICU. Beatrix had a nasal cannula to deliver oxygen for several hours but her oxygen saturation kept going below 90 percent, which meant she needed to be intubated. When patients are intubated for mechanical ventilation, they are sedated because it is a painful intervention and they remain sedated as long as they need a ventilator. There was no way I could have known while it was happening, but this was the last time Beatrix and I looked into each other’s eyes. The last time I was sure my baby knew her mother was at her side. She would remain sedated and on a ventilator for the longest month of our lives before passing away in Noah and my arms.

As news and warnings were released about coronavirus and it continued to spread, I thought about and prayed for Alexis, my dad and so many others who are immunocompromised. I thought about Beatrix and how closely her illness paralleled what is now a pandemic. I grew more anxious and more furious that not enough was being done to prevent the spread of the disease. I thought that if people knew an iota of what I know about how hellishly painful it is to love someone who gets sick and dies, especially from a respiratory virus, they would think and act differently. Based on the projected growth models of the pandemic, I believe there will be a second epidemic, that of PTSD, for anyone remotely touched by it. Even with our access to the hospital and everything we were privileged to have helping us shoulder the burden, experiencing death and bereavement is heartbreaking and life altering. We are not prepared for death. Not as individuals, families, communities or as a nation. We are not adequately prepared mentally for the experience or fallout when family members and friends die in normal circumstances, and we are in no way ready for the preventable loss of life in numbers akin to those seen in war. Now it is a matter of waiting to see who is sick, who might be and who survives. Love your family. Love your friends. Do what is best for your health and theirs.

Post Script: After I finished writing this yesterday, I went for a run. I came home to learn that one of the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in our county is at a nursing home less than a mile from our house, Noah’s school, our older daughter Clio’s daycare and the library where I work. (by 3/20 there were 44) I am filled with dread for the next few days and weeks but I am also fiercely determined that Noah and I can be present with each other and Alexis and Clio. My girls have been the reason I’ve gotten up every morning for the last year and a half and making sure their physical and emotional needs have been met has been paramount. Yesterday afternoon was no different, following the news update we promptly went outside and played. Maybe this is because I know that life must go on and the girls needed fresh air. Maybe it was because I needed to be as far from the news as possible. Regardless, I want to look back at this time knowing we were together as a family. Beatrix died about a month after her first birthday, one that was celebrated with ice cream and champagne in our backyard with family and friends, and a pizza party at the hospital for our beloved NICU staff. One of my most cherished possessions is a picture of the five of us at the twins’ first cross country meet to watch Noah’s team. That day I took Alexis and Beatrix to the optometrist to get Alexis’s first pair of glasses, then we hustled to Clio’s daycare to get her and make it to the meet in time. In the parking lot I changed the three girls into their matching ‘Daddy Shirts’ which proudly displayed the HCXC logo and were a birthday gift from the wife of another coach. After the races were over, Noah found our picnic blanket and stopped for hugs. A rival team’s coach walked by and we impulsively asked him for a picture. The result was a miraculous alignment of smiles and focus from my three under three. The fates were in our favor and that one photo was all we needed.


My point is this: you may be focused on the news, stressed about trying to work from home with kids underfoot, worried about bills after getting unexpectedly laid off. We don’t know what is coming or how things will be on the other side, but don’t forget to be present for yourself and one another and make the best of the situation while safely at home. Our halcyon days are the memories with Beatrix at the hectic start of a new school year and cross country season for Noah. Now I’m looking to create more happy memories, as challenging as that might be.

Finally, another part of our experience I think people should know about is that we genuinely didn’t realize how serious Bea’s condition had gotten until two weeks into her hospitalization. Even now there are days that I still can’t believe something like this happened. Our society believes that medicine will always work, will always get us better, but we tragically learned its limits. Beatrix developed an additional infection (easy to do when you need to have two PICC lines and are intubated) and our conversations about when she would be coming home gradually slowed. I remember the day the doctors told us that IF she survived she would need a tracheostomy and potentially breathing assistance for the rest of her life, because her lungs had been scarred so badly and she wouldn’t be able to breathe on her own. I was crushed. I thought about how hard that would have been to adjust to as a family and how vastly different her life would have been from what we imagined for her. But then, clarity. I didn’t care because she’d be alive. She would be home with us. With her sisters. We were lucky when Alexis and Beatrix left the NICU. Having been born at 26 weeks, they required so much medical intervention to survive and thrive. When they graduated the NICU having minimal complications, I naively thought we were out of the woods and the hard days were largely behind us. I knew there were things we needed to be aware of, like Flu and RSV season, but preemies are preemies forever, and protecting their health demands constant vigilance. For this reason, I will always feel guilty that Beatrix got sick. That in hindsight we didn’t do more to protect her. I fear there are a lot of people in our country and around the world who are either in denial or still trusting misinformation or haven’t been able to wrap their brains around what is happening. I don’t think we were in denial about how fragile Beatrix’s health was, but knowing she would die was such a hard realization to come to and act on that I can still feel the whiplash ricocheting around. Again, there is still a lot of doubt and disbelief about how bad coronavirus can be on individuals and will be for our country and the world. I fear the rapidly traveling tsunami of lost innocence. It is an understatement to say that in many ways our family is still reeling from Beatrix’s death. I would give almost anything to know that things will be different for families after the coronavirus pandemic.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

In 1941, Joe DiMaggio was named the American League MVP for the second time in his career after leading the New York Yankees to their fifth World Series victory in six years.  During that year, he established a major league record by getting a hit in 56 straight games, a mark that still stands and is considered by many baseball fans to be the most impressive achievement in the games’ history.  A few months after that season ended, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  From 1943-1945, DiMaggio did not play a single game in the major leagues.  He, along with over 500 other major league baseball players, joined the war effort and enlisted in the US Military.

joe d stats

Above: Joe DiMaggio’s career statistics.  Note he did not play in the MLB from 1943-1945 due to World War II.

In this respect, the sacrifices we are called to make in the coming weeks find historical precedent.  At the height of his athletic prowess, DiMaggio stepped away from the game to serve his nation.  At this uncertain moment in our nation’s history, we, too, must rise and face squarely the challenge before us.

Of course, the enemy we face is a very different one than the villainous Nazis and their Axis-power partners.  Our enemy is not a foreign military force but a global pandemic, and the fight is one the nations of the world are in together.  And while we will not be shipping off to fight battles on foreign soil, it is important now as it was then to recognize the seriousness of our foe and to do our part in helping to reduce its threat.

I offer this historical context not to lessen the pain of losing the opportunity to compete at the Indoor Conference Championships (which, in itself, pales next to what is being faced by our nations’ best collegiate athletes) but rather to help you better appreciate that there will be tremendous purpose behind your action, even if the action required of you at this point in time is simply to minimize contact with others, avoid large groups, pay especially close attention to hygiene and physical well-being.

Please understand that by giving up the beloved opportunities to compete in championship competitions, by avoiding our usual meeting places like schools or houses of worship, by cancelling spring break trips and remaining largely house-bound, we are making the nation safer for our most vulnerable citizens.  This includes people like my daughter Alexis.  As most of you know, Alexis and her twin sister Beatrix were born extremely prematurely, which meant their lungs did not have enough time to fully develop. We lost our beloved Beatrix in October of 2018 after a virus wracked her tiny lungs and she couldn’t recover.  For reasons too complicated to explain here, Alexis’s lungs were slightly more developed than Bea’s at birth, and she has grown into a wonderful little girl full of enthusiasm and energy.  She brings light into our home every day with her infectious laugh, wondrous vocabulary, and determined will.  But her path hasn’t been easy either.  Alexis weighed less than a pound and a half at birth, and spent the first two months of her life hooked up to a ventilator.  Since her release from the NICU around Christmas of 2017, she has been hospitalized at least five times, requiring ventilation on more than one occasion.  Just two months ago, at the beginning of the second semester, she contracted the flu and another virus and spent an entire week in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, requiring ventilation.

So let me express my gravest fear about the spread of the Coronavirus as it pertains to the impact it could have on my family and others like ours.  What concerns me is what might happen should Alexis contract a respiratory illness – Corona or other – that makes her sick enough to need a ventilator.  If COVID-19 spreads as rapidly as some models predict, there will not be enough ventilators for all patients who need them.  What then?

While it is entirely appropriate to mourn lost opportunities, it is important to also take solace in knowing our actions can save lives.  By acting aggressively, we can slow the spread of the virus, and hopefully prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

Throughout the time we have spent together, we have often preached a few messages which bear repeating right now: be selfless; adapt to the situation.  We are called now to put our own desires on hold for the good of our brethren.  We should not – we will not – feel self-pity.    We will wake up each morning with resolve, tackle the challenges of each day to the best of our ability, and strive to remain positive and be there for each other in spirit if we can’t be there for each other in person.

After the war, DiMaggio played six more years, led the Yanks to the world title four times, and was named MVP again in 1947. Then, three years after retirement, he married Marilyn Monroe.  Brighter days returned to DiMaggio and to America.  They will for us as well.

Love Hurts

“I’m sure there are equally compelling stories out there that need to be told. Tell them!” – Tony Holler


I coach distance for the Hinsdale Central boy’s track team.  We qualified zero distance athletes or relays to the state track championships this year.  First time since 2008 that has happened.  Nonetheless, I have a story I feel compelled to tell.  My story is a little bit different.  It doesn’t end in triumph.  It ends with us failing to advance out of Sectionals, which forced me to do some deep thinking about coaching, training, and how to quantify something that can’t be measured: love.  I’ll start by explaining my motivations for writing, then will begin at the end and work backwards.


I was inspired to begin writing about our story after reading John O’Malley’s recent blog “Sandburg 4*800 2019.”  It is an amazing story well-told.   It also, if you will permit me to be candid, brought up some painful memories for me.


While John’s Sandburg foursome performed brilliantly at Sectionals to earn a birth to state, it was our Hinsdale Central team that ended third in that race, one place and less than two seconds away from qualifying for the trip to Charleston, the goal, we, too, had prioritized unquestioningly from the very beginning of the season.  Sandburg’s success in the 4*800 – no finish worse than 4th since 2011 –  is unparalleled, but we also had a modest streak to boast of – 8 years in a row of qualifying for state in that event, an achievement which put us in elite company: only Sandburg and Neuqua could say the same.  The 4*8 is a prestige event at Hinsdale Central.  It is also a freaky event, where crazy stuff happens – one year we advanced through to state after running a mediocre 8:06 only because a team in front of us dropped a baton; other years we were the victims of the Track God’s capriciousness, most painfully last year in state finals when our lead runner, Colin Yandel (now entering his sophomore year for the Fighting Illini) was clipped from behind 600 meters into the race, killing our dreams before we’d even reached the first exchange.  Despite leaving Charleston disappointed in 7 of the past 8 years of state 4*800s (the 2017 all-state team being the one exception) we started this track season knowing we’d be going all in.  Next year will be no different.


John teaches English, and it shows in his writing.  I teach social studies, a discipline that emphasizes the importance of seeking out multiple perspectives in order to better understand a historical event.  So here is how the Sectional Race so vividly described in John’s blog played out from the point of view of Hinsdale Central:


The gun goes off.  We put Alec Hill as our leadoff guy.  Alec, who battled plantar fasciitis all cross country season yet persevered through countless hours of rehab and cross training to save our season.  Alec, the lone remaining link to the aforementioned 2018 4*800 team, a group with such promise and whose ultimate fate felt so unjust (another story I felt compelled to tell).  And Alec runs perfectly, bolting to the lead with 200 to go and giving us a wide margin at the first exchange.  He runs 1:59.5 – tying his lifetime best, run in last year’s state prelims.  I was surprised the lead legs weren’t out faster, but Alec ran smart as he always does and put us in a great position.  Matt Kusak and Piyush Mekla run 2nd and 3rd.  Both run in the lead the entire way.  Running in the lead is a tough task – psychologically it is much easier to be the one chasing rather than being chased.  Both run about 2 seconds off their PR.  Not quite what we were hoping for, but we are still in the lead at the final exchange.  I see Naperville Central and Sandburg only about 10 meters back and I know we’re in trouble.  Carter McCarroll is our anchor.  His PR is 2:01.4.  I don’t know what Nico Calderon’s 800 PR is at this point, but I vividly remember him blasting into the lead on the third leg of the state finals last year – and we all know that Naperville Central will be rolling.  As for Carter, no one on our team has matured more over the course of this school year.  We’d kept Carter in our long distance group and geared his training for the 3200 for track, and we know he is in great aerobic shape.  The plan had been to have him run 3200 at Sectionals.  He’d run a solo 9:35 a few weeks earlier and state qualifying seemed eminently reasonable.  However, we’d thrown him in a few 800s outdoors and were impressed with his trajectory: from 2:04 to 2:03 to 2:02 to 2:01 in four races.  In practice earlier in the week, he’d beaten all our mid-d guys in a 2*600/200 workout, so we took a gamble and put him on the anchor leg.  He was the guy who trained harder than anyone else on the team, and had blossomed into a leader both through word and deed.  Maybe this would be his moment.  And so, as John wrote in his blog, the rain is pouring down, our guys, like the Sandburg guys, are running from one side of the track to the other, screaming Carter’s name.  But as Sandburg and Naperville Central pull up next to him, he searches to find a gear to match, and it isn’t there.  Now it is a race against time, and it will take a 2 second PR for him to get us under the qualifying time.  He misses his PR by .5 seconds.  Our season is over, and also our streak.


My heart broke for Alec, Matt, Piyush, and Carter.  As John wrote in his blog, they also “fought like hell for the things they love” – each other, their team.  Sometimes love loses.


For two weeks after the Sectional meet, I couldn’t look at twitter.  Perhaps this is immature, but the truth is my ego felt particularly fragile after feeling that I’d failed my team.  I didn’t want to look at all the celebratory posts from coaches excited about how great their athletes’ seasons ended.  That is not a good place to be, but there I was.  I spent this period of self-imposed social media doing a lot of reflecting on the past season, trying to figure out how I managed to screw it up (did I mess up the order of our Sectional 4*8?  Was our training inadequate?  Have I lost my touch?)  By all traditional objective measures, the 2018-2019 school year had been our worst in a long time.  Aside from advancing no athletes to state in track, we’d finished 11th in cross country, our worst finish since 2012 and had only 2 guys sub 10:00, the lowest total in a decade.


A few weeks later, I was back on twitter, following along as the division 1 national meet took place.  Perhaps the most exciting race of a meet that featured many of them was the men’s final of the 1500, where Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse came out of nowhere in the final thirty meters of the race to just edge Justin Kiprotich of Michigan State by the proverbial eyelash.  I didn’t get a chance to watch that race live, and first learned about upon seeing this tweet:

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Now, I don’t know Coach Carlson, but I admire his achievements (and I certainly enjoy following him on twitter).  I will permit myself a moment of immodesty to brag that it was I who suggested to Jeff Purdom that he interview Carlson for his awesome podcast, as I was interested to hear how Carlson managed to land Dylan Jacobs and Danny Kilrea in the same year.  I was floored by that.  And during that interview, I loved how Carlson advocated a back to the basics approach of high mileage while downplaying ancillary work.  As a former York guy, that resonated strongly with me.  But this tweet brought up unexpected feelings: pangs of jealousy, feelings of insecurity.  My thoughts ran thusly: if the reason Yared Nuguse managed to pull of this remarkable victory is that his team was built on love, then what does it mean if you lose, like our 4*8 did this season?  Did we not have sufficient love?  This is not a knock on Coach Carlson at all, but simply an honest account of my train of thoughts upon reading his tweet.


One of the major motivations for coaching, as we all know, is the transcendent moments of shared joy we get to experience when an athlete achieves some long-sought goal.  We all relish expressing our love in those moments.  However, the tougher part of coaching comes when our athletes comes up just short.  It is then that we find out whether we succeeded in communicating to them that our love is unconditional, based on the mutual trust we create in the effort to improve – that it is not contingent on performance.


I’ve been mulling this question: how do you measure love?  How do you measure if your team culture is healthy?  Can you do it by looking at meet results?


This past year, I found myself in an unfortunate but unique situation: my cross country season was interrupted by the month-long illness and eventual death of my 1-year old daughter Beatrix, and my track season coincided with my on-going efforts to grieve her loss and to figure out how to move forward with purpose after the foundation I thought my family had established crumbled beneath us.  And this year, more than any other, I found out that while the results weren’t there for us, we were there for each other: 80 Hinsdale Central Cross Country runners, each with a hand-written card, attending the visitation for my daughter, Bea.  Dozens of alumni returning home, from as far away as Texas, to pay their respects.  Those same runners, later in the track season, waiting 3.5 hours in line to be there for their teammate and his family after that teammate’s father died, succumbing to cancer 9 years after first being diagnosed.


I have all those letters the boys wrote to me collected together in a photo album.  On the very first page of the album, I pasted two photographs: our top 7 girls and our top 7 boys, posing after the Sectional XC meet.  If you look closely, you can see that they are all wearing ribbons in honor of my daughter Bea, who’d died a week earlier.  I was not at the meet; in fact, Bea’s funeral had been the day before, and several of those athletes pictured had been in attendance.  The boys, who I help coach, finished 5th, only 2 points ahead of Plainfield South, to barely manage to qualify for state.  From left to right they are: Mike Ward, Piyush Mekla, Will Ricker, Matt Kusak, Alec Hill, Colby Revord, and Carter McCarroll.  Piyush, Matt, Alec, and Carter ran on our 4*800 which won conference for the first time since 2012, beating both York and LT who would both earn all-state, and which finished third a week later at Sectionals, just missing state qualifying.

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On the backside of that first page, I pasted two other items.  At the top of the page is a photograph zoomed in on the ‘Bea’ pins that the boys and girls wore in their race.  These pins were designed and created, I later learned, by Sara Magnesen, the mother of Billy Magnesen, the top runner from our first state championship team back in 2013.  Billy and Colin Yandel also wore the Bea ribbons while representing University of Illinois at the Big Ten Cross Country Conference Championships.  The bonds between past and present at HCXC remain strong.


And beneath, I taped in an email sent to me from John O’Malley, written after the Sectional XC meet, which occurred one day after Bea’s funeral:

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John’s Sandburg team had finished fourth at Sectionals, one place in front of us.  His stellar coaching staff had filmed the race at 1200 to go, and he took the time to share this data with Coach Westphal and I because that is the kind of person he is: a class act, caring towards others beyond his team, one of the coaches who ‘gets it.’


I cherish that email.  And what struck me most when re-reading it after the track season ended was this realization: our 1st guy went from 14 to 7 – that was Matt Kusak.  Our 2nd guy went from 17 to 12 – that was Piyush Mekla.  Our 3rd guy went from 24 to 21 – that was Carter McCarroll.  Our 4th guy went from 44 to 35 – that was Alec Hill.  In the final 1200 of the Sectional XC race, those four guys passed a combined 24 runners.  And we advanced to state by 2 points.  Those four guys.  The same four guys that would end up on our Sectional 4*800.


Here was my answer, and it was, appropriately enough, in John’s email all along: my guys did fight to get to state because they loved me.  They fought in cross country, and they continued to fight in track, and they didn’t love me any less just because six months had passed by.  They fought to get to state because they loved their coach, and each other – only this time, they came up just short.  No medals.  No glory.  Just the pain of feeling they’d let each other down.  The pain that is inextricably bound to love.


Also, in the photo album, I included the letter I wrote to the team the week before Conference XC.  I’d just watched a documentary about Mr. Rogers, and found this quote resonating at that particular time: “you don’t have to do anything spectacular to be worthy of being loved.”

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By tradition, at our annual Track banquet, seniors come and speak about each member of the coaching staff.  This year, senior James Giltner spoke about me.  James had a stellar indoor season, dropping his 1600 PR from 4:58 to 4:41 and finishing 7th in that event at the always tough WSC-silver indoor championships, a great accomplishment for an athlete who’d had minimal varsity experience.  His outdoor season was plagued by frustration and did not go as well, despite our best efforts to diagnose and address his races.  But his maturation from joining us as a sophomore (a soccer convert) was inspiring, and he will be running next year at Bowdoin.  And in his speech, he quoted that exact same Mr. Rogers quote: you don’t have to do anything spectacular to be worthy of being loved.  It is a really rewarding feeling to hear your words repeated back to you, and to know that those words were believed.


John O’Malley is absolutely right that the coach’s job is to ‘frame the narrative’ and he does this as well as anyone, which is a huge reason he is such a good coach.  And so, while I love hearing the inspiring stories he, and I, and so many other coaches tell, I think it is equally important that we as coaches tell our stories when things don’t work out the way we’d hoped.  And so it was for the Hinsdale Central 4*800 2019 – we fought, we loved, we lost.  And that is OK.






Before she was baby Bea, she was baby “B,” the name applied by doctors to the smaller of our identical twins that we learned first about in June 2017, and from the very beginning we worried about her health.  Megan’s OBGYN had identified potential complications fairly early in the pregnancy, and so twice a week that summer, she and I trekked to Glen Ellyn or Downers Grove to visit the Maternal-Fetal-Medicine specialists for ultrasounds in order to closely monitor the growth of baby A and baby B.  What concerned our doctors most was the disparity in amniotic fluid available to each twin.  In a healthy twin pregnancy, each baby will have roughly equal space within the womb, roughly 4-6 centimeters.  In our case, baby A usually measured 6-8 cm of fluid space while baby B hovered close to 2cm.  If you’ve never looked at an ultrasound, they are not easy for the untrained to interpret, resembling something approximating a combination of a Rorschach test with the static of on old untuned television set.  What Megan and I could manage to discern was the small amount of room baby B had to swim in – in short, it looked cramped in there.  What this meant, we would later be forced to discover, is that baby B’s lungs would not be able to develop as fully as her sister.


Baby A and baby B became Alexis Rose and Beatrix Reid on September 5, 2017, born via c-section three months earlier than their projected due date.  They were admitted immediately to the Hinsdale Hospital NICU, and despite a busy schedule of teaching and coaching, I visited them every single day of their three and a half month stay. Alexis was sent home from the NICU on December 20th of 2017, and Beatrix joined her three days later.

leaving the nicu

December 23, 2017: A big moment: Leaving the NICU for the last time.

We were nine months a happy family before Bea was admitted to the ER on September 19th and was diagnosed with a virus and bacterial infections.  Ultimately, those illnesses battered her (already weak) lungs and contributed to a secondary diagnosis of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome from which she was unable to recover.  She died on October 19th.


After Beatrix was admitted to the hospital, we realized we’d need to restructure our daily schedule in order to be available to be bedside, and so we made the expensive but reassuring decision to have Bea’s twin sister Alexis join her sister Clio at daycare.  We’ve always loved Clio’s teachers and knew that Alexis would be in good hands there.  In many ways, this decision worked very well: Clio absolutely loved being able to play her big sister role at school and insisted she take the lead when we picked both girls up from school each evening.  Unfortunately, the safety and love within the walls of Kindercare did not extend beyond the entrance doors, as Megan sadly discovered.  One of the first mornings that Megan dropped off both girls, she returned to her car to discover the diaper bag she’d left in the front seat was missing, and with it, all the precious contents contained therein.  In the five minutes it took for her to bring in both girls, a thief had absconded with the beautiful quilted satchel, a gift from my social department to celebrate Clio’s birth, along with Megan’s computer, her wallet with all her credit and identification cards, our address book, and 20 hand written thank you notes which only needed to be stamped and addressed.  The loss of the address book hurt most of all.  I’d kept it since high school, and it contained addresses, phone numbers, and email contacts for every person who’d been important in my life over the past two decades.  And not only that: it also contained a recently hand written list of every username and password for all the secured websites we utilized-our bank accounts, insurance, social media.


A confluence of factors made this crime not only possible, but substantially more painful for us.  Megan usually locked her car when entering day care, but, with so much on her mind, forgot to do so in this instance.  She often did not bring her diaper bag with, but happened to have it on this day.  That very morning she’d put in the thank you notes she’d written to express gratitude to all the people who brought presents for the twins on their birthday.  All she needed to do was write the addresses on the envelopes, which explained why my address book was also in the diaper bag, a foreign location for the leather bound book which almost always resided in the top right hand drawer of the desk in our guest bedroom.   On literally no other morning could the thief’s act have been worse.


So now, with one daughter critically ill in the hospital, we were forced to expend energy cancelling our credit cards, meeting with police officers, contacting our insurance company.  We were victims of actual theft, with the real possibility of being additional victims of identity theft.


As it happened, whoever nabbed the diaper bag must not have looked too closely at the contents within, perhaps grabbing what loose cash was available and discarding the rest.  So far as we know, none of our on-line accounts was compromised.  Yet, it was Megan who later came to the sad but profound reflection that we were in fact simultaneously suffering a far more agonizingly painful identify theft: being robbed of our joy in being parents of twins and forced instead to take on a new identity of bereaved parent.  After all, credit cards can be replaced, thank you notes rewritten.  We can’t, though, replace our deceased daughter.  And we’ll never again get to derive such happiness from pushing Alexis and Beatrix around in their double stroller, secretly pleased every time a stranger offered a cliché’d comment (which was often!) such as “you’ve really got your hands full there!”  With what satisfaction did we relate to new acquaintances our story of being twins who gave birth to twins – it became a foundational part of the narrative Megan and I told about our relationship.  The label of ‘parents of multiples’ was one we’d worn with pride.


While the theft happened suddenly and unexpectedly, the realization that Bea was dying dawned gradually.  Indeed, one of the worst parts of seeing Bea die was not initially knowing how severe her sickness was.  She’d been hospitalized due to breathing difficulties twice before, but each time was released after only one day of observation.  When we brought her to the hospital, we did not know it would be the last time we’d get to hold her she while she was still alert.


That month of her illness was the hardest I ever endured (Read: my updates on her health during this time).  In that first week, I simply expected to hear each day news of her improving from her illness, but in fact, she grew sicker.  Rather than being able to wean her level of oxygen, she ended up needing even more support.  At first, our doctors believed this was just the nature of the illness, that infections tended to peak after 7-10 days and that once the antibiotics kicked in, Bea would be back on the road to recovery.  And there were days where it seemed Beatrix was turning a corner.  We’d have moments of hope, where a sense of normalcy would slowly seem to be resurfacing, only to be faced with setback a day or two later.  This cycle of fear, relief, hope, than devastation repeated itself several times – it became a trap that proved impossible to escape.


How Beatrix experienced this period will always be unknown to us, though I would like to think that she experienced no pain in her month long hospital stay – that she fell into a deep sleep and eventually passed on peacefully.  I am grateful that most of Bea’s extended family got to see her in the hours before her death, and that Megan and I were with her in her final moments.  Of that experience, I will say little else, as I prefer it to remain private, other than to attest that I consider it one of the two sacred episodes of my life, with the other happening almost exactly one year earlier, when I was able to be present to witness Megan hold tiny Alexis and Beatrix both against her body for the first time.


Megan holding Beatrix for the first time, September 9, 2017.

I am so thankful, now, that I wrote at length about the pregnancy and early arrival of Alexis and Beatrix, and about their long stay at the Hinsdale Hospital NICU as they were happening, as this led to our support network widening considerably, with many, many people adopting the cause of our twins.  Aside from writing about them, I shared Beatrix and Alexis’s story with the students I teach and the athletes I coach.  I have never been one to adhere to a strict separation between work and home.  My shared experience with Megan in raising premature twins became inspiration for stories I would tell our team.  On my first day back with the Track team last year (I missed the first four weeks of the season while on paternity leave) I showed all 150 team members pictures of my twins on the day of their birth and pictures of them four months later, offering an explanation for my absence and discussing with them how integral many families of Cross Country and Track runners had been in supporting us, by bringing dinner or babysitting, while they had been in the NICU.


On the day of their first birthday, I wrote the following email to my colleagues in the Social Studies Department:

Dear Colleagues,

A year ago today Megan gave birth to our daughters Alexis and Beatrix.  As I reflect upon that milestone, I am so grateful for the care and concern shared by so many with our family.  As I walked down the halls this morning, I noted the ‘staff charter’ listing the adjectives HC teachers hope to feel.  While I would not list ‘attending SEL professional development’ on my list of favorite activities, I can say with genuine sincerity that I do feel SUPPORTED by our school community and especially this department.   Thank you for that.

With gratitude,



A favorite pictures of the girls trying ice cream for the first time on their 1st birthday.  Bea would be admitted to the hospital two weeks later.

You’ve all heard the expression “it takes a village” and our experience raising Alexis and Beatrix has proven to us the truth of this statement.  While Megan and I have been, of course, the twins primary care givers, we owe the health of Alexis and the too-brief months of Beatrix’s health to the genuine and whole-hearted efforts of so many: to the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists of the NICU (and, also, the secretaries, maintenance crew, and administrators who allow the hospital to function effectively); to the tax-payer funded state of Illinois early intervention program, which provides heavily subsidized therapy for qualifying families, including any with babies born weighing under 1 Kilogram – including the amazing physical therapist and speech therapist that the girls have been fortunate to work with through that program; to the health insurance we are extremely lucky to have, which has covered literally millions of dollars of medical expense and eased, at least, the financial burden which has stricken other families facing health emergencies in America; to the friends who have babysat for us, brought us meals, lent an ear, sent words of support; and finally to the medical teams at Loyola University Medical Center and Advocate Christ Medical Center who, I know, did everything in their power to try to save Beatrix.  I can at least have the peace of mind knowing that every effort was made throughout Bea’s life to provide her the best opportunity to thrive – her death was not due to neglect or cruelty – but simply to the mysteries of human biology.  In every environment she lived – the Hinsdale NICU, our home, Loyola and Christ medical centers – she was loved.  There is some comfort in knowing that.


On this topic, I’d like to briefly comment on the difficulty of finding the right words to describe Bea’s hospital stay. Often the language of fighting was used to describe Beatrix’s battle with illness (as in describing her as a ‘fighter’), but I think this way of framing her sickness is inadequate.  Fighting implies a measure of freewill, the conscious and determined effort to overcome a challenge.  Perhaps it is a language suited to describe a patient who had a stroke and is trying to learn to walk again.  In Beatrix’s case, she was heavily sedated for her entire hospital stay, essentially in a medically induced coma.  What was happening within her body was occurring on a biological level but not a sentient one.  She did not die because she “lost” a fight, but because she had the misfortune of being born with underdeveloped lungs.  I prefer to think that she shone her light as brightly as she could for as long as she could.


I wrote a Eulogy for Beatrix which I read at her funeral.  If you were not there, I’d appreciate you taking the time to read it to gain just a bit more understanding about her life and how special she was to her family and so many others.  I feel an imperative to tell her story to as many people as are willing to listen to it.  I wrote there, “I know in time that when I think back on this period of our lives, what I will cherish most will be the ordinary family moments.”  I wanted to take some time here to record some of my other memories of Beatrix, especially of the time after she was released from the NICU, as I know with time these will only become hazier, in the way of all memory.


Since preemies are more susceptible to illness than full-term babies, we were advised to avoid taking the twins out unless necessary, so they spent most of their time in their first few months after graduating from the NICU at our Willowbrook home.  To set the stage, our home, which we purchased in 2012 and have grown to love, has three floors.  The basement contains our washer and dryer, storage space, and an amateurishly but lovingly built play space (recently furnished with an easel and mini trampoline).  The first floor features our kitchen and living room, a room which once served as an office but now is a play room spilling over with toys, a bathroom, and a guest bedroom which has seen heavy use ever since the twins arrival.  The second floor is bisected by the staircase – you walk up and directly in front of you is a bathroom where most nights around 8:00 you will find Clio taking a bath.  To your left is Clio’s room which stretches the length of the house from North and South and which she’d be expected to share with her sisters once they proved capable of sleeping through the night.  To the right is our bedroom, which is also rather spacious, though less so then Clio’s room due to a south facing crawl space.  We have a King bed which we can lie in and see trees swaying out of the north and east facing windows.  It is in this room where we built two mini cribs for the twins to sleep in at night, though by late spring they’d basically stopped using them, preferring the warm spot between mom and dad.


In that early period after the twins were sent home, it was bitterly cold.  On one particularly frigid day, we decided it was too chilly on the first floor for us to take the twins downstairs, so we decided to hunker down in our bedroom all day.  When it was time for a meal, one of us would go downstairs to prepare it, while the other remained upstairs with Alexis and Beatrix.  I recall that day feeling an odd combination of restlessness and coziness.


Bea was sent home with both an oxygen tank and an apnea monitor.  We had to attach two leeds to her chest, which were connected to the apnea monitor.  The monitor would alert us, piercingly, if Bea’s heart rate dropped too low.  Unfortunately, the monitor often rang out due to false readings (if Bea moved and the leed cord was pulled, it could trigger the alarm).  There were several late night false alarms where I sprang out bed and rushed to Bea, only to find her sleeping peacefully, right through the loud alarm.


It took time to figure out the best systems for managing Bea’s oxygen needs.  The biggest challenge was mobility – she could only move as far away from her oxygen as her tubes would allow, which amounted to about ten feet.  After a few weeks of trial and error, I discovered that by moving the location of her Oxygen compressor, I could sit in bed to feed her, which proved preferable to the chair adjacent to her crib that I’d previously used.  I’d usually sit with my back to our bed’s headboard, knees bent.  I would have Bea sitting so that we’d be face to face, with her leaning back against my quadriceps, a far more comfortable position.  Still, it remained challenging to feed Bea, especially at night.  Even getting her to finish a 2 ounce bottle was an accomplishment.  Sometimes she would fall asleep while sucking, and I’d need to twist the bottle to remind her to start sucking again.

twins 6

January 9, 2017: On paternity leave and at home with both Alexis and Beatrix. I am holding Alexis, while Bea, with oxygen tube, rests on my lap.

Each morning, we’d have to transition the twins from upstairs to our first floor.  In order to do this, we had to momentarily disconnect Bea from her Oxygen, switching her from the compressor to the portable tanks so that we could carry her down.  Initially, this made us extremely nervous.  Eventually, we learned that Bea could be off oxygen for quite a while before feeling adverse effects, and we became comfortable enough to keep her disconnected for the minute it took to unplug the compressor, walk it downstairs, and plug it in again.


Bea’s first floor perch was in a pack-n-play which we kept in a corner, nestled next to our grand book shelf and a narrow wall separating the living and dining areas.  Figuring out that we could put Bea in a baby carrier and wear her around the house was a revelation.  While her tube was only ten feet long, the cord for plugging in the oxygen compressor extended another ten feet, so by rolling the compressor to different parts of the room we could double Bea’s living space.  We also quickly found out that both twins enjoyed being nestled against us, and it proved our most reliable method of inducing naps.  I made many dinners and washed many dishes in those days with Alexis or Beatrix asleep against my chest.


In those first weeks after she was discharged, Bea was assigned a home nurse who came by 2-3 times a week to check up on her progress.  This nurse would bring a scale because our Doctors wanted to monitor’s Bea’s weight to make sure she was getting enough to eat.  This was in the dead of winter and our front door, since replaced, was drafty, so we’d hastily undress Bea, which is substantially more difficult for a child needing supplemental oxygen (you can’t simply pull a shirt over her head) and quickly wrap her in a blanket for the short journey from crib to scale.  Each time she showed weight gain, we’d cheer.  The nurse also let us weigh Alexis, so we’d get a second chance for celebration if she, too, was packing on the ounces.


We would bathe the twins in those days by laying towels down on the floor next to the cribs.  We’d then lug a wash basin of warm water over from the bathroom and then have the twins take turns sitting in it, carefully massaging Selsun Blue (recommended to address cradle cap) into their scalps.


Keeping the girls fed was a full time job in itself.  Megan made a Herculean effort to continue pumping while the girls were in the NICU and thus unable to breastfeed, and we’d take this milk and freeze it to use when the girls came home.  Eventually, we accumulated so much milk that we literally had to purchase an additional freezer chest, which we installed in our basement, and this too became filled to the brim.  Once the twins came home, we’d take out bottles from the freezer to thaw out for use during the day.  As one or the other twin wanted to eat every 2-3 hours, we’d find ourselves at day’s end with an overflowing tub of empty bottles that needed to be washed.  Poor Megan had to wake during the night not only to help feed Alexis and Beatrix, but to pump.  She kept this vigil until May, when, with our pediatricians blessing, she ceased production.  The frozen milk lasted through July, at which point the girls transitioned to being formula fed, which led to a new set of work and expense.  Complicating matters was the fact that Bea had different calorie needs than Alexis.  As she weighed about one pound less, our Doctor’s recommended her formula be fortified so that she’d be getting 27-30 calories per ounce, whereas Alexis needed about 22 calories per ounce, the typical dose for preemies.  So, we’d have to measure out different amounts of the formula powder into B’s bottles (2 scoops for every 3 ounces) than for Alexis (2 scoops for every 4 ounces) and then make sure we labeled the bottles so each girl got what she needed.  This could occasionally be confusing, as when a bottle that we’d written an ‘A’ on with a black sharpie got washed and reused, sometimes capped with a white top with a ‘B’ on it.  When one of us set out on the task of bottle washing, the other would be in charge of the three young girls, so this chore was often put off until the girls finally all went down to bed, the final obstacle between us and the precious commodity of sleep.


I’d describe these days as exhausting but wonderful.  I returned to school around President’s day, with the worst of winter behind us, and Bea newly free of supplemental oxygen.  I find this period from late February through the end of May to be the hardest to draw memories from, perhaps because I saw the twins only a few hours of each day.  I do remember the first time that Megan brought the twins to a track meet, our home McCarthy Invite held the first weekend of each May.  It was a beautiful night, and despite my efforts to reserve a close parking spot for Megan, a miscommunication led her to parking in front of the high school, a quarter mile’s walk from the outdoor track. I was able to meet her and walk with Clio while she pushed the stroller trackside.  I was so proud to have my whole family there to show off, despite the fact that I had to divide my focus between my roles as coach and dad.


I loved, also, coming home from school in spring as temperatures began to rise and finding Megan laying on a blanket in our front yard with the twins and Clio next to her.  We’d have family ‘happy hour’ which often involved a juice box for Clio, formula or milk for Alexis and Beatrix, and a beer or gin and tonic for Megan and I.  It quickly became a favorite summertime ritual.


Then, there was Bea’s ‘kicky legs.’  We learned from our physical therapist that Bea had a stronger back than Alexis, while Alexis had stronger abdominal muscles.  As a result, Bea kicked her legs a lot more than Alexis.  If she was on her back and not asleep, she would almost always be in motion.  Bea also took to rolling before her twin.  A few times we witnessed her roll from her front to her back.  We’d cheer for her which would make her smile.  By the summer, she started rolling to her side when we’d put her in her crib at night.  Alexis now prefers to do the same, each roll to the side reminding us of her sister.


Like Clio, Bea had moderate Plagiocephaly, which basically means she had a misshapen skull.  To rectify this, she had to wear a helmet which was molded to place pressure on certain parts of her head.


Bea, wearing her helmet, naps on mom’s lap on a late spring day.

Her clinic was in Lombard near Yorktown mall.  Since Alexis did not need a helmet, she sometimes came with, and other times stayed with one parent while the other took Bea in.  Over the summer, Megan and I established a nice routine of taking Bea to her appointment and then heading to a local café for lunch.  We’d sit and eat while the girls slept or played peacefully in their stroller.  The café had comfortable seating areas, including a couch.  I recall sitting with Bea on my lap, reading Harpers, and sipping coffee.  It doesn’t get much better than that.


A movie I have been thinking a lot about since Bea died is “The Descendants,” a film starring George Clooney as a father dealing with grief while also trying to raise his two daughters.  The film is directed by Alexander Payne (who also directed “About Schmidt,” “Sideways,” and “Nebraska” and who depicts the messiness and beauty of familial relations as well as anyone).  In the movie’s final scene, Clooney sits on a couch with one daughter on each side, watching a movie.  We are left with the understanding that it is these ordinary moments, not the grandiose or dramatic ones, that make life most worthwhile.

On a few rare and special occasions, Megan and I would sit on the couch, each of us with one twin on our lap and with Clio between us, watching one of Clio’s shows – almost certainly Daniel Tiger or Doc McStuffins.  I’d never have chosen to watch these kid programs on my own, yet for those precious moments, there was no place I’d rather be.  Clio would add to the poignancy of the scene by declaring “we’re sitting together as a whole family!”


Now, at dinner, when we sit down as four instead of five, Clio will still sometimes make similar declarations.  It is bittersweet when she does so.  I’ve also been thinking in recent days of a political cartoon published honoring the late President George H.W. Bush.  In the cartoon, he has landed his world war II era plane in heaven, had disembarked, and is being greeted by his wife Barbara and daughter Robin, who died of Leukemia at age 3.    Image result for Marshall Ramsey George HW Bush

I had not previously known the Bush’s lost a child.  Here was a couple who resided in the White House, saw one son grow up to do the same, and another become governor of Florida.  And yet, the cartoon implied, in the final analysis what they thought about on their death bed was the daughter they never had the pleasure of raising.  I am not sure if this cartoon gives me comfort or brings sadness, but it has certainly stuck with me.


In some ways, life is simpler now.  Raising three kids under three, including preemie twins, was so hard.  I realize this even more now, knowing how exhausted I still get attending to Alexis and Clio.  Alexis and Beatrix had a lot more needs than typical babies.  Since her birth, we’ve never once had to take Clio to the ER.  Since they were released from the NICU in late December of 2017, we had to take Beatrix to the ER four different times.  Alexis, for her part, has been to the ER and/or hospital three times just in the past five weeks.  Most babies are eating solids by about 6 months, which means they are fuller at night and thus can sleep for longer blocks of time.  Beatrix had only begun eating purees before her fateful final trip to hospital this past September, and Alexis’s diet continues today to consist largely of formula.  I haven’t had a restful night of sleep since the twins came home from the NICU.  Towards their first birthday, each twin would typically wake twice, on good nights, for a feeding.  When one or both were congested or had a cough, they sometimes awoke hourly or remained awake and fussy for long stretches of time, occasionally requiring a fifteen minute Nebulizer treatment before they could fall asleep again. And then I’d be up at 6:00 am for work, and Megan would be left to manage all three girls.  I’d teach all day, then head to practice, and return 11 or 12 hours later, exhausted but knowing there’d be no chance for rest.  The challenges of parenthood are most certainly not evenly distributed.


But here is the thing: raising two kids is expensive and exhausting, but it is less expensive and less exhausting than raising three kids.  I would give anything to have back that extra exhaustion and expense.  I recall a conversation I had with a colleague when Megan was pregnant with the twins and we knew of the potential for complications where I told him, “I’m rooting hard for the least financially secure future.”  Even then, I understood, the sense of purpose in raising children was a far worthier goal for me than the accumulation of wealth.


It is natural after one has endured tragedy to reassess ones’ priorities and to reflect upon the choices one has made.  In the aftermath of Bea’s funeral, I have thought a lot about how I have devoted my time, what I have valued, and how Bea’s death will change me and the lives of my family members.  One question I’ve considered is whether to continue coaching.  Should I be spending every extra moment I can with my wife and daughters, knowing how precious life is, how short it can sometimes be?  Here, the conclusion was not difficult to arrive at: yes, I should continue to coach.  What Bea’s visitation and funeral laid bare was just how wide our family’s network of support was.  By sharing my time between my own kids and the kids I coached, I believe all were enriched.


I think back now on my life much differently than I did just two years ago.  I realize now that I skated through life for my first thirty five years.  At age 35, I’d accomplished most of what I’d wanted for myself.  Between 2010 and 2015 I’d gotten married, purchased a home, finished graduate school, paid off the last of my student loans, achieved a major life goal of being part of a state championship cross country team (then did it again), was named head track coach, and became a father.  I loved my job and was in excellent physical shape (during that time frame I had a streak of running 964 days in a row, with each run being at least 4 miles but averaging closer to 8).  The one major stress of that period was a long delay in beginning the family we always dreamed of: it took three years and eventually an in-vitro fertilization procedure before Megan became pregnant, but on November 19 of 2015, Clio was born, and life seemed just about perfect.


A game Megan and I have played throughout our relationship is to ask: what would 18 year old Noah think of 30 year old Noah? What would 22 year old Megan think of 35 year old Megan?  We always could answer smilingly that our younger selves would have been thrilled to look into the crystal ball to see where we’d ended up.  It has been said often by those who endured the pain of losing a loved one: it is better to love and lose than to never have loved at all.  What would happen if 18 year old Noah were given a choice: here is your life at 38.  You’ll have most of what you want, but your wife will give birth to premature twins, who you will both come to love fiercely, and then you will become a helpless observer as your dear Beatrix dies after a month of hospitalization. Or, you could pick the life behind door number 2?


Without hesitation, I choose the first option.  Which is to say, 18 year old Noah would still accept what life had in store for the next twenty years, would be grateful, but also sad.


Throughout Beatrix’s illness, I was on the phone often with my friend Alison, a Doctor working in the PICU at University of California San Francisco.  Since she worked in the area of pediatric critical care, she became an invaluable resource, Bea’s strongest advocate, and a huge source of emotional support.  We’d first met in college as we both ran on the cross country team, and became housemates with a couple other teammates during junior and senior year.  I remember a conversation I had with her back in those days where we were discussing what we wanted out of life.  I said I hoped to be happy, and was surprised to hear her say she did not necessarily agree.  I understand her perspective better now.  Happiness is an emotion that is enjoyable to experience, but it must find you, not you it.  What is more valuable is to love and be loved, with all the pain and worry that invariably involves.  This is why a particular Raymond Carver poem seemed the most appropriate for Bea’s death announcement.  Carver wrote And did you get what/You wanted from this life, even so?/I did. And what did you want?/To call myself beloved, to feel/beloved on the earth.  He wrote this as an old man in the twilight of his life, but does it not apply to all of us, regardless of age?  Bea will never get the chance to go to school, to grow old – but she was loved – oh, was she loved! – and in this, her life achieved perfection.

B and B

Beatrix and her great grandmother, September 16, 2018

Read more: Bea’s Funeral Program


The Agony of Defeat

In my nearly 25 years of competing and coaching, I’ve experienced my share of both triumph and despair, but three moments in particular stand out as being particularly agonizing.  All three involved falls.


In 1997, during the state cross country championships of my senior year of high school, my twin brother collapsed short of the finish line, his body succumbing to hypoglycemia.  He ultimately managed to crawl on his hand and knees the rest of the way, but ended third from last.  The final results showed us a single point behind Lockport Township for the state title, which would have been Mr. Newton’s twentieth.


In 2011, during the state cross country meet, a sort of déjà vu occurred, as our lead runner Jack Feldman’s legs gave out on him at almost the exact same spot on the course as they had for my brother 14 years earlier.  His dreams of all-state collapsed when his body did, and with it our hopes of a top-eight finish, which at that point had been a major goal for our team.


(The one time we qualified for Nike Nationals, our top runner Billy Magnesen took a fall 800 meters into the race and was unable to get back up, which caused us to finish dead last in the team standing.  However, the burn of that race was significantly mitigated due to the fact that we were still coming off the high of having won our programs first ever state championship a few weeks earlier).


The third moment came this past weekend, during the state finals of the 4*800.  We’d run a smartly executed race in prelims to set ourselves up well for the final, having run a measured 7:52.09, a season’s best for us up to that point.  We had a veteran group of athletes who’d been steady all-season.  Some guys you coach are up and down – you’re never sure they’ll be ready on race day.  I never worried about that with this group.  I was confident that they’d run smart and would not be rattled by the pressure of running in state finals.  The year before, we’d dropped 4 seconds off our time between prelims and finals, and I knew that we could do it again.  If so, we’d have a school record and definitely be in the hunt for a top 3 finish.  Anything better than 7th would be the top finish for our team since Coach Westphal and I started coaching back in 2005 (only the 1997 and 1998 teams have done better).


After careful deliberation, we had chosen Colin Yandel to run lead for us.  This was to be the culminating race of an astonishing senior year, one marked by stratospheric improvement.   In Cross Country, as we are now fond of saying, he went from “16th in JV Conference as a junior to 16th in state as a senior.”  He carried on this improvement in Track and Field, running PRs of 4:18 and 9:21 outdoors. Despite having a legitimate chance to earn all-state in the 3200, he’d selflessly decided to run the 4*800, choosing to help his teammates rather than seek individual glory.  Almost comically, he had finished his junior year of Track having run 2:20.6 in our JV conference track meet.  Guys like that don’t run in the 4*800 state finals.

JV conf

Yet, 51 weeks later, he was clocking 1:58.0 at Sectionals, and his body, now Kenyan-like with long skinny legs and short waist, was ready to carry him even faster.  He’d been unflappable on meet day all season long, and we knew he’d position us well.


The gun was fired and the race began with the normal jockeying for position.    The pack was tight through the first lap, with all 12 athletes coming through the 400 within a second of each other.  Colin was right in the middle, and I worried about him being boxed in.

4 by 8 pack

The pack came through lap one with all 12 teams together, in roughly 57 seconds.

About halfway down the backstretch, Colin finally found an opening and started motoring towards the front of the group.  Beginning the final turn, he’d moved up to fifth, and seemed about to close the gap on the front four when disaster struck:

yandel tri fold

Three freeze frames showing the moments right before, during, and after Colin’s fall.  It’s impossible to know exactly what happened, but the end result was the shattering of a season long goal held by Colin, Alec, Neil, and Sean.

When you get knocked down, the best of us get right back up.  Colin, acting on instinct, rose shakily to his feet, retrieved the baton which had rolled away after his face plant, and gamely hobbled towards the finish line.  By the time he passed off to Alec Hill, we were 75 meters behind everyone, an impossible gap to make up in a race like this.  Alec, Neil, and Sean did the best they could, but the air had been let out of the balloon.  The Track Gods would go on to claim two more victims in this race, with a Danville runner going down around the same spot as Colin did a lap later, and a Metea runner having to step off the Track on the final leg due to massive leg cramping.  We ended 10th place, one spot away from all-state.

Here is the foursome after the race.  Notice the blue Track residue on Colin’s jersey.  He has been instructed not to wash his singlet, but rather to bring it with him to college and to pin it to the door of his dorm room, as both reminder and motivator.

What hurt the most was that this was a group who did everything right.  They worked hard, listened to their coaches, displayed no arrogance, and had fostered an inclusive and welcoming team atmosphere.  They’d all bought into the concept of team, choosing to scratch their individual events in order to give our relay the best possible chance of doing well (Neil Cumberland had qualified in the 800 with the 9th best seed time, and Yandel and O’Connell had both qualified in the 1600, with Colin seeded 9th and Sean 15th).  And they were rounding into shape at the right time.  Neil ran a 2-second PR at Conference to drop his 800 best to 1:57.5, then dropped again down to 1:56.2 at Sectionals, repeating that performance in Prelims.  Sean O’Connell had run 1:57.5 in both Conference and Sectionals before throwing down a 1:55.9 in Prelims.  And “little” Alec Hill had become a consistent sub-2 guy, running a PR of 1:59.5 in Sectionals and repeating the effort in prelims.  Added together, their PRs equated to a sub 7:50, so we knew that if we simply ran what we were capable of, we’d be in the mix.  As it turned out, a sub-7:50 would have been good enough for third.  I’d also note that by qualifying for state in the event, we joined Sandburg and Neuqua Valley as the only schools to earn a birth to state in the 4*8 for 8 years straight.  Not coincidentally, those two programs have finished top 2 in this event each of the past two years.



As a coach, when something like this happens, there is not much you can do.  You don’t get a redo.  Sometimes the Track Gods just don’t favor you.  You get dealt a bad hand.  I briefly saw Coach O’Malley outside the Track exits’ gate, and he tempered his joy to take a moment to offer comfort, remarking “all you can do is tell them you love them.”


True.  But, there is one other thing I can do.  I can tell the story of their race.  I can give context to the results, so when people read “Hinsdale Central – 10th – 8:08” they will understand what it means.  I can tell everyone that Sean ranks 4th in the “Westphal/Lawrence era” for the 800 and 3200 runs, and 7th in 1600 and is as focused a competitor as I’ve ever coached.  That Colin Yandel ranks 6th in the 1600 and 5th in the 3200 and underwent shocking improvement in his time with us.  That Neil Cumberland ranks as our 8th best miler and 6th best half miler, and after three years of struggling with being ready on race day put together a beautiful senior year where he came through in every single high pressure situation.  That Alec Hill is the most even-tempered and mature junior I’ve ever coached.


It seems crazy to me that Sean O’Connell and Neil Cumberland will graduate without any state medals.  They led the team to a surprise fourth place finish in XC, one place out of the medals, and finished 10th in the state 4*8, once again one place out of the medals.  However, I take solace in the fact that the two HC athletes ever to earn All-American status in college, Neil Pedersen and Nathan Hill, were never all-state in high school.


Nathan Hill, older brother of Alec, also raced on Saturday.  His race was the antidote to ours.  As a senior in high school, Nathan had a disappointing state Track meet, failing to advance beyond the prelims in both the 4*800 and open 800, despite a PR of 1:55.  Yet, two years later he was waiting for us when we arrived back in Hinsdale, having just finished third in the nation at Division 3 Nationals in the 800, with a time under 1:51.  Nathan, incidentally, has fallen in races more than any athlete I’ve ever coached.  But his story reminds us that, no matter the disappointments of high school, new promises await for those who choose to keep competing.


I, too, know from experience that nothing motivates quite like disappointment, that out of the embers of this stillborn 4*800 will be constituted successes yet unimaginable.  A stinging 1-point loss at the 1997 state meet led me towards a career of teaching and coaching, and filled me with a desire to motivate others the way my coach had motivated me.

The pain I felt after watching Jack Feldman’s fall in 2011 spurred me to go on a quest to meet with as many great coaches as would agree to see me (Chris Quick, Paul Vandersteen, Charlie Kern, Jason Crowe) to learn about the shared habits of top quality programs.  I credit both low points for setting me on the long path towards a state championship, which, when achieved, was all the sweeter owing to the knowledge of all that came before it.


So, to Colin, Neil, and Sean – and to the teams at Danville and Metea Valley and Downers Grove North (who would have been 4*800 favorites if not for an untimely injury to their top middle distance runner Brendan Lockerby) – be proud of what you accomplished, know that you were trailblazers, and use the pain of this moment to inspire you to achieve whatever goals you set next.

A Tribute to Mr. Newton

How do you measure the worth of a man’s life?  If it is by the number of other people whose lives that man has touched personally, and in a positive way, a strong argument can be made that few people will ever match the impact made by my high school coach, Mr. Newton (he’d never accept any other form of address from his athletes) who passed away yesterday at the age of 88.  His genius was in forcing people to do what they did not think they were capable of, by setting extremely high expectations and stubbornly refusing to waver from them.  He did this for, I am sure, tens of thousands of individuals.  And this accounts for only those he coached directly.  It does not include fellow coaches who learned from coaching against him, from reading his books, from hearing him speak at clinics.  It does not include all the athletes who were coached by a York alum, or by a Coach who studied York’s program in order to improve their own.

My own story is simultaneously unique to me and the most quintessential of all cross country personal narratives: I entered high school desperately wanting to be recognized for being good at something in the realm of athletics, since, at under 5 feet and less than 90 pounds, I’d yet to make any team that had cuts and was routinely last picked for the pickup basketball and playground football games.  I wasn’t a great middle school cross country or track athlete either (working my way up to 7th man on my 8th grade team and finishing middle school with PRs of 2:40 and 6:06 – yes, I still remember).  Most of the six guys in front of me (all except my twin brother) left running to pursue more glorious sports at high school (to bust another misconception, even at York, Cross Country did not offer status even close to the same level of the traditional glory sports of football and soccer).  I joined the summer running program before my freshmen season, and that made a big difference.  I found myself as the #4 freshmen on the team, getting to represent the frosh squad in a few of the invites we attended that had a freshmen level.  And our team would win!  Having a taste of that success during the insecure first months of high school was enough to convince me that the pain of workouts and the grogginess of early mornings was worth it.  Still, after my first XC season, I nearly was convinced by a very persuasive wresting coach to try out for that sport in the winter (they needed someone for the 100 and under division who would win half the time by disqualification since many schools couldn’t fill that role).  As my Hinsdale guys know (I’ve told the story lots) what prevented me from doing so was fear of Mr. Newton.  I went into his office to tell him of my intended plans, but before I could say anything he looked at me and said, “Twin – 45 minute run today.”  And I said, “uh…OK, thanks, Mr. Newton” and left his office with the dawning realization that I’d just resigned myself to 3 and a half more years of that tough, tough sport of distance running.

By then, some of the upperclassmen on the team started to adopt me, and the newfound popularity of getting invited to hang out with older teammates was another factor motivating me to stick with it.  My sophomore year, a foreign exchange student from Norway named Marius Bakken came to attend York and run with our team.  He lived with a family whose home was 3 blocks from mine and which I passed each day on the walk to school, so my brother and I got the unique privilege of walking home from practice most days with a guy who went on to become one of the greatest distance runners in York, Illinois, and Norwegian history.  My own confidence grew.  I remember how proud I felt when I first made the top 12 sophomore year and was issued a “York top 12” shirt –I could not wait to go to school the next day and walk around the halls showing it off.  Mr. Newton very carefully designed a system which promoted competition within the ranks.  The top 7 guys were anointed ‘group 1’ and given matching shirts.  The next 7 guys were group 2 and had a different shirt, while #15-21 were called ‘the emerging 7’ and got yet another shirt.  If you missed a practice or bombed a meet, you had to give up your shirt to the guy who was replacing you.  There were also the ‘1000 mile club’ turtlenecks given to guys who could show documentation of having run the full millennium between the start of summer running and labor day, along with the even more prestigious 2000 and 3000 mile versions (for doing it again junior and senior year).

For the parents reading this, I think it is important to acknowledge this, too: Mr. Newton’s rules were ironclad.  Most parents of his runners were not thrilled with the sacrifices he demanded of his athletes.  York runners did not go on spring break.   Practice was mandatory, at 7:00 am every day of break except Sunday.  College visits were not excused absences.  I remember how frustrated my parents were when Mr. Newton informed them that he would not permit us to miss both a Friday and a Saturday to visit a college – doing so would constitute two unexcused absences and result in removal from the team, no matter that this was two of his top seven athletes.  He could also be incredibly harsh in dressing down athletes, sometimes in front of their peers.  If you let the team down, he was going to let you hear about it, and often in front of the whole team such that we’d all draw the lesson.

I share this not as criticism but in an attempt to capture Mr. Newton in all his complexity, and to remind us all that to have a remarkable record like York many difficult choices had to be made.  No, you could not leave practice early for a band concert.  Decide which of the two was more important to you.  You’d better not be late.  The only excuse was if you were stopped by the train, which Mr. Newton claimed he would verify.  You got one tardy.  On the second, you were out.

And the workouts and mileage!  I know many people who did not run for York have seen the film “The Long Green Line” and while that documentary does a great job of capturing how charismatic and motivational Mr. Newton was, my one critique is that the movie never really delved into just how hard the training was.  I sometimes wonder how I managed.  At Hinsdale Central, our long run is 90 minutes, which is one of the more challenging workouts we do.  At York, if I heard 45-30-15 announced as the workout, I would feel a wave of relief.  That was our easy day.  There were several summer days where I ran over 20 miles.  One week I ran over 120 miles.  pic for identity blog 2Amazingly, aside from a minor injury that sidelined me for a few weeks after the Conference XC Championships my sophomore year, I managed to remain healthy.  I don’t recall rates of injury being any higher than they are for our team currently, despite running crazy high mileage.  My theory is that injuries were not discussed (we did not roll, take ice baths, use bands, do general strength workouts, take cross training days, or even do much static stretching) – it was just assumed you could do the mileage and so since we believed it could be done, it was done.  We ran 25*400 with one minute rest every Monday all summer.  We did 12*800, 30*200, the ‘hour continual run’ (see how far you can run in an hour).  Our labor day weekend consisted of a Friday workout of 1*1600, 10*400, 10*200 followed by the annual intrasquad meet on Saturday and then the fabled 2-man 10-mile relay on Monday (you and your partner trade off running 400s until you’ve each done twenty – proud to say my brother and I defeated the sophomore team of Don Sage and Pete Cioni when we were seniors!)

Netwon photo

Heading to the starting line of the 1997 Illinois State Cross Country meet. I am sure that I’d never felt a greater sense of purpose up to that point in my life.

In my case, I did all that hard work and ended up with the most heartbreaking outcome imaginable, a one-point loss in the 1997 state XC meet my senior year.  But that did not mean it wasn’t worth it – far from it, in fact.  Here is what I wrote back then, as an earnest seventeen-year-old:


Netwon letter 1

Newton letter 2

Like most York guys, though, time and experience has allowed me to more deeply appreciate what a true gift it was to be able to run for Mr. Newton.  The payoff could be quite tangible – I’m pretty sure having ‘Captain-York Cross Country’ on my resume got me my interview at Hinsdale Central – but more significant has been the sense of self Mr. Newton helped me and so many others cultivate.  He would often promote “commitment to excellence” as a guiding virtue, and would encourage us never to settle for average in any endeavor we’d go on to pursue.  He helped me develop a work ethic and a belief in my own abilities that helped me get to where I am today –a high school teacher and cross country/track coach, the surest evidence of all of how significant Mr. Newton has been to my life.


This would prove to be the last time I ever talked with Mr. Newton.  I am so grateful the moment was documented.  I told him how grateful I was to him and how I hoped to help carry on his legacy.  He patted me on the back and told me he was sure I would.  I am proud and honored to take on that responsibility.

State 2017

This was not the most talented group we’ve ever coached.  We returned only our #2 and #7 from last year’s 6th place team.  Based upon returning 3200 meter times, we were beginning the season from a weaker point than any of the past four years.  Since last year, we knew that for the team to be successful we’d have to depend on factors other than talent: hard work, integrity, humility, cohesiveness.  In January, I had a meeting with Alec Hill, Sam Schiavitti, Sean O’Connell, and Neil Cumberland.  I read them passages from “The Boys in the Boat.” Winter break usually affords me the opportunity to read a book, something I usually can’t manage during season, and my selection that December was this non-fiction work about the 1936 University of Washington rowing team, first  recommended to me by Kevin Gummerson, head coach of Minooka, and a social studies teacher like myself.  The excerpts I selected emphasized what could be accomplish when individuals sublimated their ego for the good of the team:

“What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew.”

Like a well rowed boat,   these 2017 varsity team was steady all year: 2nd at Hornet- Red, 2nd at First to the Finish, 3rd at Palatine, 4th at Twilight, 3rd at Conference, 3rd at Sectionals.  We entered the week of state with the goal of running the best we were capable of on the day.  We knew we could not control how anyone else did.  We also knew, though, that a top three finish, while unlikely, was at least within the realm of possibility.  We decided to look at that prospect as an awesome opportunity, one not often afforded.  Come what may, we wanted to know that on the day we met the challenge in front of us, did not cow in fear.

Our first advantage came from the collective wisdom from our alumni.  I specifically asked all Hinsdale Central runners from the modern era who earned all-state to share advice and encouragement with the team.  What these men shared in common is that all of them rose to the occasion in a championship situation.  I figured they more than anyone would have useful ideas for how to execute when it matters most.  Amazingly, of the 22 people who fit this criteria, fully 16 of them wrote to us – and I’ve no doubt their words helped spur us on today.  From a tactical standpoint, TJ Caveney reminded the boys:

“Get out fast.  The race gets out very fast; you’re going to here this from a lot of people.  Make sure you don’t assume it will come naturally.  I must have heard it 100 times before running my first state meet, but I ended up not getting out fast enough, which was a fatal error.  Have ‘get out fast’ going through your head all morning and as you wait for the gun to go off.  Everyone around you is also trying to get out fast, so you’re going to have to be extra fast.  I don’t believe its possible to go out too fast, as long as you’re sprinting with controlled form and breathing well.”

Josh Feldman wrote for a page and a half, covering all topics from pre-race mental preparation to every detail of the race itself, reminding our boys:

“You should want this race to be incredibly hard. Harder than mile repeats at Kenosha, than 5 x mile, than 25 x 400. You should be thinking ‘I really hope I push myself to the point where this is the hardest race of my life, because it should be.’ That should be your goal. That way, you will know that you are giving it everything you have. There’s no reason to fear the pain, because it will only last 15 minutes. You want to be in pain because you want to give it everything. Pain is the key to your dreams. Seek out the pain, embrace it.”

Kevin Haung focused more on the ‘why’ of running, imploring the boys:

“During that last mile on Saturday, when you are hurting and think you have nothing left, I want you to remember your teammates… the teammates who have run over 1000 miles with you, talked and laughed with you on a Waterfall loop, who have pushed you through every KLM repeat, cheered on your best races, and picked you back up when you had a bad one. Think about who you are running for, and who is running for you.”

And Tom O’Shea, an all-state middle distance runner for Hinsdale Central in the 1980s who went on to compete at Loyola University echoed Kevin, urging our guys to remember the power of TEAM:

“Your lungs, legs, and arms will all help you Saturday but ultimately your minds as a collective group/team is what will make Saturday successful or just another average race.”

And while it was indeed a genuine team effort, the guy that made the race for us was Neil Cumberland.  I have never seen him run so well as he did today.  Neil has not had an easy path.  He has dealt with plenty of poor races, inconsistency, and self-doubt.  He ran in state last year as a junior and succumbed to the pressure, never factoring in the team scoring and finishing well below potential.  It was a humbling but clarifying experience.  No guy on our team moved up more places in the final mile than he did (28 spots) and no team other than Downers North had a higher placing 5th man.  He was the first guy I saw coming out of the chute and I ran to him, hugged him, and shouted at him: “You did it!”

A few seconds ahead of Sean was our other returning state runner, Sean O’Connell.  I worried about Sean given that he’d come down with a cold mid-week.  He stayed inside on Thursday while the rest of the team ran their workout, started taking cold medication, and even packed a humidifier to keep in his hotel room on Friday night.  Sean ran smart, not getting out too fast, and moved up nicely in the second half of the race.  I can say with certainty that no athlete on our team worked harder in the 365 days since last state meet.  While his overall individual place today was, I know, not what he’d hoped for, our team place was.  And in the end, that is what we’ll remember the most.  Sean did his part by being a quite humble leader.  He worked hard and inspired others to do the same.  That will be his lasting legacy.

Something similar can be said about Sam Schiavitti.  Sam was our 7th man today.  Late season illness and a nagging injury prevented him from having the state race he wanted.  But, he, like Sean, worked tremendously hard to get to this point.  If Sean ran the highest mileage of anyone in our top 7, Sam was definitely in second place.  He is probably the most gregarious member of what has to be the most quiet and serious varsity group we’ve had in a long while.  When I told the team about my twins back in September, it was he who came, on behalf of his teammates, to tell me they were thinking about me.  When the race was over and we were packing up, it was Sam who stayed behind to make sure all water bottles were thrown away and that everyone had grabbed all their belongings.  The point here is that you can contribute to your team in a lot of ways, and Sam certainly enriched ours.

Our juniors, too, were steady as could be today.  Alec Hill finished 37th, pretty darn good considering he’d been 18th in conference just three weeks previous.  As they say about Rudy, the famed former Notre Dame kicker, Alec is “five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing.”  Actually, less than 100. He might be the smallest guy out there, but what a heart.  Alec broke 15:00 for the first time today and will be an unequivocal leader in the year ahead.

As will Matt Kusak, our hyper-focused fourth man.  Matt, too, struggled this season finding competitive fire for the finals stages of his race.  The transition from sophomore year to junior year is a tough one, as an athlete used to being at the front of most races usually finds themselves junior year in the uncomfortable middle.  Matt ran fairly well throughout the season, though had some races where he underperformed.  He used each subpar race as a learning experience, adjusting his strategy based on his previous performance.  By Regionals, he’d begun to gain his confidence back.  As we approached state, I knew he was ready to run well.  He finished 54th today and has a new PR to show for it.  He’ll join Alec as the beating heart’s core of next year’s team.

As a junior at state in 2012, TJ Caveney ran 15:33 and finished 126th.  As a junior at state in 2017, younger brother Keegan ran 15:33 and finished 121st.  Those who know our team’s history know how TJs senior year finished out.  As mentioned earlier, TJ wrote in his advice to the team about the importance of getting out fast.  Of all our runners, Keegan least adhered to this advice.  When I saw him after rounding the first turn, he must have been in 200th place.  From there, though, he moved up nicely and earned a big PR on an even bigger stage.  Keegan joined us as a sophomore after playing soccer freshmen year, and it is fair to say that decision has and will continue to pay huge dividends!

And what can I say about Colin Yandel?  I’ve never had an athlete improve as much in a single season as he has.  He entered the season with personal best of 2:15 in the 800, 4:45 in the 1600, and 10:03 in the 3200.  He finished 16th in JV conference as a junior and was the 12th man on our roster of 12 travelling down state.

Yandel results

Colin Yandel was 16th in JV Conference as a junior and 16th in state as a senior!

His form is gangly, he has long legs and no waist, and he was the last guy of our returning top 12 we ever expected to be leading us this season.  But lead he did.  And it was not accidental.  As he began to understand himself as an elite runner, his habits changed to match the new identity: keeping his distance from coughing teammates, packing his own healthy lunch to eat on our trip down.  Colin joins the likes of TJ Caveney, Griffin Gartner, and Josh Feldman as guys who rose up in ways no one anticipated.  I will tell his story for the rest of my coaching career.  The moral is this: you just don’t know when all your hard work will pay off.  You can put in countless miles and hard workouts and see very little payoff, but as long as you keep faith and don’t give into the frustration, the possibility remains of a breakthrough.  I promise you Colin Yandel never even dared to believe he could be all-state even as late as the Hornet-Red invite this year.  We stand in disbelief at his accomplishment.

yandel twitter

This is, by far, the most liked Tweet I’ve ever posted.

To our alternates – Piyush Mekla, Fletcher Spillers, Bradley Davis, Anshul Sankaran, and Will Ricker, you guys played your roles beautifully.  You observed, you learned, you protected our troops, and you gained inspiration that will fuel you in the years ahead.  Congratulations on a well-earned experience.  You are charged now to use it for the betterment of yourselves and teammates.

We had tremendous support from our larger team.  Jack Borys and Alex Treankler came through in the clutch to shepherd a crew of guys down state.  This crew (plus others) included John Wheeler, Brandon Belgrad, Charlie Carter, Liam ‘Ro’-Bots, Nathan Saltzman, Andy Munoz, Tom Kusak, Aaron Lu, Patrick Hsiao, Mac Anderson, Liam Walsh, and Joe Glasby.  If I could figure out how to do it, I’d mandate every guy on our team to come down state.  How could you not leave inspired?  Illinois’s state XC championship is second to none.  I know the guys who came will not for a moment regret the five hours in the car.  Thanks, you guys, for your support.  You share in this outcome 100%.

ILXCTF pre-season rankings had us ranked 14th.

ILXCTF preseason rankings

No team improved upon their pre-season ranking more than we did!

Milesplit and ITCCCA had us a little better in 7th and 9th.  I would have put us 8-10.  It was the first year in a half decade where earning a trophy was not an explicit goal of ours.  I knew we were not in the league of DGN, and that other teams had much more returning firepower than us.  In the days leading to state, I was asked often what my hopes for our team were.  My reply: 7th place would meet expectations.  Worse than 7th I’d be disappointed.  Better than 7th would exceed expectations.  So, there you have it.  The guys stepped up when it mattered, fought as hard as they could.  We didn’t trophy, but we got damn close.  We finished as the third best HCXC team in history, with only the 2013 and 2014 state champion teams doing better.  I am as proud of this team as I was of those.

Some other notes from state:

I was thrilled when I saw the results of the girls 3A state meet and noticed the LT Girls finished third and earned a trophy.  It may seem odd to hear a Hinsdale Central coach revel in a rival’s success (I was equally happy to see Grace McCabe and McKenna Revord earn all-state) but in this case I was really happy for the aptly named head Coach of the LT Girls, Alex Lyons.  I first got to know Alex when he student taught at Hinsdale Central.  He sought me out to ask some questions about coaching, and I quickly came to appreciate his passion for the sport, keen intellect, and stoic demeanor.  He has proved a quick study, leading his team to fifth place as a rookie coach and to a trophy in just his second year.  He is the guy I have run more with on Sunday more than anyone else this season (DGN state champion coach John Sipple ranks a close second) so I’ve learned of his teams’ ups and downs basically in real time.  I know his girls finished 9th place at First to the Finish in the second week of September, and that Alex had the patience and faith even then to believe they’d improve by state.  Coach Lyons has the wisdom and maturity of someone twice his age, but he may be the youngest head coach in 3A.  That should be a scary thought for coaches of girls’ teams statewide.

As we drove our minibus up the crowded road towards our team area, I looked out the window to see Sandburg’s head coach John O’Malley walking across the field, carrying a gift bag with pink tissue paper peaking out of it.  I found that to be curious.  I was amazed and virtually speechless when, a little while later, after I’d exited the bus and was standing outside our team area, John came up to give the bag to me.  It was a gift for my twin girls (who turned two months old today) along with a card from his family.  What a truly class act.  For those wondering why Sandburg has established such a strong tradition, that act of kindness  goes a long way towards explaining it.

Which leads me to DGN.  Their performance yesterday was historically good, the lowest score at state since 2007 and the lowest ever in the 3-class era.  I was not at all surprised.  I had seen their program growing for years, had been watching their dominant seniors Ridderhoff, Chudzik, Christensen, McCool, and Birkmeier since they were little freshmen.  They are a talented group for sure.  But I must share three separate anecdotes which better tell the story of how DGN became the dominant program they proved to be yesterday:

Story one – We are in the moments after the end of the 2013 state cross country 3A boys awards ceremony.  We at Hinsdale our celebrating the first championship in our program’s history.  All of the sudden, we here the booming voice of former DGN coach Will Kupish yell out, “hey Hinsdale!”  We in red turned to look, and Coach Kup proceeded to lead the entire runner-up squad from DGN in a rousing rendition of ‘for they are jolly good fellows.’

Story two – It is the night of the 2015  McCarthy Invitational, our annual home track meet.  The meet has ended, but we had planned to seize upon the opportunity of having access to the Track at night to hold a 3200 time trial for all our JV guys who did not make the invitational lineup.  The time trial began just as the last of the competing teams were leaving the track.  Coach Sipple and Buhot of DGN, realizing what is going on, turn around and return to the track.  They stay and cheer for our JV guys.

Story three – It is this past Monday.  Coach Sipple comes to my house at 8:30 pm to babysit for our daughter Clio so that Megan and I can go to the hospital to visit our twin daughters Alexis and Beatrix.  It is the five days before state and John is the head coach of the top rated team, yet he volunteers to come babysit for the coach of an opposing team.

Pretty obvious moral here – act with class, make sure you have strong values and that you live up to them, and the results will eventually take care of themselves.  Neuqua Valley is equally as good an example of this.  We tip our hat to you, DGN.  Congratulations on representing our conference so well (and to Lyons Township, York, and Glenbard West as well).  Keep it rolling through the post-season.

So wraps up the 2017 season, definitely the most personally challenging of my life.  But here it is November 5th, and the season ended pretty close to as well as I’d hoped, my twins are stable and healthier each day (now 3 pounds 5 ounces and 3 pounds 13 ounces), and I’ve never felt so fortunate.