We\'re All In This Together

We\'re All In This Together

by David Frank

A few years ago Nike cofounder Jeff Johnson was the featured speaker at the annual Washington/Oregon Border Clash. While it is unlikely that I can convey his intent, I can tell you how I felt that night–and the places I\'ve been before and since which reinforce his words.

The text of Jeff\'s speech can be found at www.ramxc.com but to paraphrase, he said, speaking of the distance running world, \"We\'re all in this together.\"

Of course that\'s not all he said, but that\'s what I heard. And the more I thought about it the more I realized that I\'ve known it for many, many years: Jeff\'s words simply helped me to see it more clearly in myself, my competitors, my coaches and \"opposing\" coaches, and my athletes. Since that fall evening in \'01, I\'ve tried to be more aware of this camaraderie and promote it every chance I get. I\'m proud to have been a distance runner and equally proud and grateful to be working with young distance runners now.

The gist of Jeff\'s talk that evening was the idea that runners are driven by their competitors, and that we continually improve as a direct result of challenging competition. With this in mind he reasoned that we are really comrades much more than rivals; we have much more in common with each other than we have differences.

Rather than tear each other down, we should embrace, applaud, and appreciate the efforts of our competitors with whom we race. We race with our competitors, not against them, as co-conspirators in striving for excellence.

As I look back upon my competitive career I can now clearly see that I was lucky to have been involved in this conspiracy from a young age. My high school coach, Wes Cook, took great pride in our accomplishments, but I recall many times when Wes was equally excited about the performance of a rival–and he never failed to share that excitement with us, the competition, and the rival coaches.

In the same vein I developed great relationships with opposing coaches like Darrell Deedon, John Oliver, Jim Jones, Harlan Yriarte, and Pat Cary who regularly congratulated or consoled me after a race. I don\'t know if all coaches of that era were like these men–and times have simply changed for the worse–or if I was simply fortunate to have competed in a time and place where these gentlemen happened to exist.

These men taught me that it was OK to be \"friendly with the enemy,\" although it might have taken me many years to fully understand the lesson; of course we all wanted to emerge victorious–and fought tooth and nail during the races–but realized that as the level of competition rose, our performances would improve as well.

During my college years the Washington State track team came to Stanford every spring break for a meet. (Why they\'d want to leave the Palouse for a couple of weeks in California I\'ll never know...)

In the days before the meet I remember Washington State\'s Coach Chaplin discussing with our coach, Brooks Johnson, the pacing we\'d like to see in the distance races; on race day the WSU runners would dutifully tow us through our desired splits, typically moving away from us even as we were running PRs. In retrospect I can see Coach Chaplin\'s largesse as a favor to his coaching friend but also as an effort to help a group of seemingly inconsequential young men toward their goals. We\'re all in this together.

As a post-collegiate runner I trained and raced with many athletes who were not on my \"team\"; in training we sacrificed for each other while in races we often agreed to share pacing duties so that we might all have a better chance at achieving our stated goals. I am proud now to count among my best friends athletes who were my competitors in high school, college, and beyond.

When I began coaching naturally, I emulated the coaches I\'d known in high school, attempting to acknowledge and respect athletes, coaches, and their outstanding performances. I made it a habit to congratulate them–and assumed that my teams would understand the dynamic of mutual respect and appreciation. I am sure now that some understood clearly while others may not have had a solid grasp on this concept.

In the last few years–with the impetus of Jeff\'s speech–I\'ve made an even stronger effort to help my teams understand the \"interconnectedness\" of the distance running community and grown to appreciate it myself to an even greater degree.

Here in Portland, in the off-seasons (summer and winter) it has become standard procedure for athletes from numerous schools to train together; not only has there been great improvement and achievement from many of the athletes involved, but, again, life-long friendships have been forged. It\'s also made for some very high caliber racing as we all know there\'s nothing more satisfying than beating your closest friends.

I\'m lucky now to be coaching a group of young men who came, predominantly, through Portland\'s CYO program. While they competed for different schools in junior high, many of them came together as a team for the Junior Olympics under the guidance of one of my high school \"enemies\" Mike Bergmann. Mike helped them to become a true team, despite their earlier allegiances, and Central Catholic has been the true beneficiary of their understanding of this camaraderie.

Their commitment to each other is special, but they have continued to befriend the opposition with a maturity I didn\'t gain until much later in my running life. We\'ve had some gratifying interactions with a number of other teams including California teams De La Salle and Coachella Valley, our local rival Jesuit, and South Eugene; the South Eugene connection is a \"full-circle\" event as they are coached by Mike\'s college roommate Jeff Hess.

It\'s my hope that the athletes at Central Catholic will continue to cultivate these relationships in high school and beyond. It\'s also important for them to help the next generation to see the light of the running world in terms of relationships and the immense benefits that are derived from being a long distance runner. My life has been immeasurably enhanced through distance running, and, although it\'s taken me many years, I now understand that we are all stewards of this way of life.

You–as a distance runner–are already special. I challenge you to take to heart Jeff Johnson\'s words and embrace your competition: without them where would you be?

David Frank As An Athlete
Graduated Gladstone, Oregon, HS \'80
Oregon State Champ XC \'78, \'79
Oregon State Champ 3000m \'79, 800m & 1500m \'80
Oregon State Team XC Champs \'77, \'79

Graduated Stanford \'84
School Recordholder steeplechase 8:38.89 in \'84; record stood until \'02

Olympic Trials competitor \'84 & \'88 (steeple), \'92 (marathon–PR 2:18:36)

Captain of Black Flag \'90 Hood to Coast Champions

David Frank As A Coach
10 years assistant XC coach St. Francis HS, Mountain View, California (\'98 State-Div III Champs); 8 years head track coach St. Francis

5 years assistant XC coach Central Catholic High, Portland, Oregon, 1 year head XC coach Central Catholic (\'03, \'05 State-4A Champs)
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