I am rich!

31 Jan

I received a letter this morning. It was from a young man I coached a number of years back. He was a great kid. His letter was unexpected and as I read it I was overcome with emotion. For a coach there is no higher honor. I am rich!

Received today, January 31, 2012.  Printed verbatim and without alternation. He asked me to leave his name out due to the  intimate nature of his letter.

Coach,

This has been a long-time coming — something I’ve been meaning to put in writing since I graduated. We’ve talked briefly about how much it meant to me to be a part of the Georgetown Boxing team, but I don’t think I’ve ever fully explained it to you. So, as we’ve now just passed the two-year anniversary of my sole amateur fight at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond — perhaps the single defining moment of my life — I just want to say quite simply: thank you.

That first day when I showed up to KNOX gym at the beginning of my senior year, you sat us down and told us the score. You said if you put yourself through this, you’ll be different. You’ll carry yourself different. You said anyone can get drunk and start a fight in a bar — it takes a man to set a date and be there in the ring waiting when the time comes. You said you were going to push us, but you were going to keep us safe. From that point on, I was in.

 Getting up at 5:30am to run up and down the Exorcist steps 20 times or do interval training up at the field in Burleith, going out to KNOX or Balance to train and learn from you and Steve and Lawrence and Al, watching pro fights and having a few beers with Rob, Evan, Collin, Rocky, Amado, Andrew, and the rest of the guys — those are some of the best memories of my life. Looking back on my college experience, that last year was the defining one — that time I spent with the Georgetown Boxing team the most memorable by far. There is no close second. Do I have regrets? Sure. I wish I hadn’t second-guessed myself for my first three years and had instead gone out for the team earlier. I wish I hadn’t skipped practice that one week to write that paper. I wish I’d gotten that medal down in Richmond.

But that’s not important. Here’s what is. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have a number of great male role models who raised me to be a man and taught me how to be a man. But I was always scared. I always have been. It’s just the way I was born, I suppose. So about a week or so before the fight in Richmond, I hung back after practice to talk to you. I didn’t tell you I was scared, because I didn’t want to admit that as a boxer — I asked you something about the right amount of preparation. But you knew I was scared. So you sat me down and put your arm around my shoulder and you said something I will never forget for as long as I live. You said, “Dan, here’s what you’re gonna do, son. You’re gonna be brave. You’re going to get in there and you’re going to fight, and you’re gonna be brave.”

I can’t quite explain how powerful an effect those words had on me, and continue to have on me. I think about them all the time. Whenever I have the instinct to shrink back out of fear, or when given the choice to flee or confront, I always think of that night in the gym after practice, when everyone else had left, and it was just you there telling me to be brave. That night in Richmond, I hobbled back to the corner after the second round, having taken a hook to the right temple that sent the light bulb flashing off, and I told you I was dizzy. You wouldn’t let me quit. You wouldn’t even entertain the idea. You told me — as straightforwardly as you told me that I was going to be brave — that I was going to advance on your cue, and that when you said “Go forward” I was going to fight, and that I wasn’t going to stop fighting until it was over. With my head swimming in the cigar smoke that filled the room, with all the men in their tuxedos shouting, and the Maryland kid across from me seeming not like a person but something coming out of the smog and pelting me with punches — the last thing I wanted to do was go forward into it. But in all the confusion and exhaustion, I heard you yell “Go forward”….and so I did.

Thank you, Coach, for believing in me, and for giving me a confidence and a sense of accomplishment that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Just as you predicted on that first day in KNOX gym, I do carry myself differently now. I will always look back at my year as a member of the Georgetown Boxing team as the proudest and most fun and memorable of my life. Thank you for giving me that gift, and for showing me how to be brave.

I don’t know how, but I hope someday I can repay the favor. If there is ever anything I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask. In the meantime, give my best to all the guys. You must be having the time of your life coaching Adan Gonzalez — I heard he beat the European collegiate champ. Unbelievable. Looking forward to seeing that kid rise to the top in whatever he decides to do in life.

God bless, Bruce. Hope to see you again soon.

XXXXX

I will tell you a secret. The only thing more powerful than an athlete wanting the love and admiration of his coach is the coach wanting and love and respect of his athlete.  Coaching can be a lonely business where you often wonder if you’re making the difference you hope to.  Letters like this are what all coaches live for.

FYI- Dan got the knick-name Dan “Ba-Bam” when the announcer at his fight came up with it in the spot. The boys loved it… so naturally it stuck.

I told you I was rich!

Love Coach

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