I had run track for a season in middle school…yes, in central Florida (I moved to the Seattle area in the middle of my sophomore year), but I hadn't yet fallen in love with running. But that summer of 1983, my math teacher's words reverberated in my head.
I put in modest mileage before returning to Seattle to begin my junior year. Still wavering on what to do, athletically speaking, I thought that maybe I'd try out for the golf team. We lived in a country club, with access to a tournament-caliber golf course. I had cut my golfing teeth there, but had yet to crack 100 for a full round. Still, it could be a fun experience. But making the team was questionable. I don't remember if our golf team made cuts, but I do remember listening to other kids at that first meeting, griping about their lousy double-bogeys on the last hole, leaving them with a disappointing score of 75, etc.
Cue a skinny, four-eyed kid fidgeting, loosening his collar, acting like he forgot something in his locker and leaving the meeting before the golf coach arrived.
Suddenly, cross-country sounded like a good alternative. The season had already begun, so I wasn't eligible to race until the second meet. Working to get into shape, I had two "DNF's" (Did Not Finish) that season; partially due to rolling an ankle, and partially due to not being fit. I trained hard, but wrapped up the season with less-than-impressive times.
I improved slightly during track season but, again, I was still working on not only getting faster, but building a base. By the end of the season, I made about a ten second jump in my mile time.
My senior year cross-country season was much improved, thanks to a summer of consistent running. I recorded roughly 400 miles during summer vacation. Still not high mileage, but most of it was quality (i.e. probably too fast.) This contributed to much faster times than the previous year. I always felt like I was trying to catch up to the level of the faster guys, so I usually trained very hard—probably too hard—most of the time.
But my coach took notice of my efforts. He took a small group of runners from our team to Canada for a small invitational cross-country meet. I was still a JV runner at the time (I cracked the varsity lineup late in the season), but due to my seriousness about training, I was one of the five guys he decided to include.
As I was growing up, my dad had always emphasized the importance of doing your absolute best in everything. Of course, being the best isn't a guarantee, but there's no excuse for not putting forth a 100% effort, whatever the task or event may be. As a typical teenager, I'm sure I fell well short of that advice many times. But when it came to running, I took it to heart.
Once the season was over, we met for the post-season awards banquet on a very cold and snowy night in November. The expected guys and gals won the expected awards. But when my coach announced the winner of the "Most Improved" award, it caught me by surprise.
"This award goes to a guy who, if we weren't meeting here tonight, would be out running in this blizzard…Colin Hayes."
He likely forgot those words shortly after he spoke them. Even today, over 28 years later, they hit home.
I've never managed to record impressive times, at least compared to many of my fellow competitors. I don't consider myself a talented runner at all. The only thing I'll tentatively take pride in, speaking as a runner, is my dedication and determination. My coach saw that in me and recognized me publicly in a very meaningful way.
My "Most Improved, 1984 Cross Country" plaque still hangs on the wall in my garage with other ribbons and medals. It's still my most cherished.
Yes, simple words can make a profound impact in peoples' lives. In this case, they still do.