Friday, July 13, 2007

Change of Topic

Sometimes in life, we meet people who have such a profound effect on us that they change the very core of our personalities. Obviously, our parents have that type of effect on us, but there is usually someone else who shapes who we are and who we become. For some, its a teacher; for others, a coach; and for many in the military, it's a drill sergeant. As for me, I consider the person who had this effect on me a cross between a coach and a drill sergeant, and most definitely a friend.

Coach Chris Wakely was the head coach of the Men's Lacrosse team when I was at Widener University, waaay back in 1997. It's ironic, too, that now I am writing about him as such an influential person in my life, because from 1997-2000 we usually just referred to him as "The Man in Black" (he always wore a black gore-tex jacket and pants to practice), or worse. Of course at the time, we thought we had it bad; looking back and realizing that he was coaching a team of all 18-20 year old, cocky freshman and sophomores, I think we'd agree now that he was the one who had it rough.

There was nothing quite like pre-season. This was the two months prior to the actual season that our lacrosse team went from 40 strong to about 20 by our 1st game. This is an especially telling fact when you realize that there were no cuts - this is just the number of kids that had the intestinal fortitude and desire to make it through a full season. Coach always said he'd rather go into battle with 15 men who want to play hard then 40 boys who want to prance around and look good. Boy did he mean that. One of the best (worst) conditioning drills we did was called Phase I, a name that still gives me chills when I hear it said. It involved a one-mile warm up jog, and then went something like this: Sprint a lap in 90 seconds (3 times) - the rest in between each lap was 10 push ups. Then we had to sprint a half-mile in 3 minutes, followed by a 20 push-up rest; two 90 second laps with a 10 push up rest in between each, followed by a 3/4 mile sprint in 270 seconds, and a 30 push up rest; and finally, one more 90 second lap (10 push ups to follow). If even one person missed the time cut for one lap, we had to re-do that lap at the end. We did Phase I every week until the start of the season.

Why is that important? It's important because Coach preached constantly that we would win games by being the absolute best conditioned team on the field; that in a 4th quarter face-off, when the other team was tugging their shorts and sucking wind out of fatigue, we'd be standing up straight like we just went for a walk in the park. He showed that when he said something, he'd follow through on it and it would help us; the evidence was in 5-straight conference titles. He also taught us that nothing in life comes easy - if we wanted to win, we'd have to work our asses off for it. Work our asses off we did - Phase I was typically followed up by a normal practice, just to get us used to what it was like playing tired. He taught us that mistakes are made when we are fatigued, and then taught us how to play through that pain. He was relentless, but he cared about us.

I think that's what struck me the most - the relentless attitude on the field, and the caring guy off the field. He was genuinely concerned with our lives - from school and grades, to our family involvement in the team, all the way through graduation and our job search. After graduation many players came back to help, and even though he left after my senior year to coach at Lehigh, we kept in contact. We'd talk not just about lacrosse, but how I was doing in the Army and my job search when I got out, married life (for him and me), and how his children were.

About a month ago I got a shocking email from Coach Wakely. He was stepping down as Lehigh's Head Lacrosse coach to concentrate on his ongoing battle with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It was hard news for me to take - Coach Wakely was always the picture of strength to me, the guy who came in from running 15 miles before practice with blood on his shirt and didn't think twice about it. Thinking about him with this condition . . . just doesn't seem right.

Rachael and I began doing the MS walk every year a few years back when her assistant lacrosse coach at Princeton was diagnosed with it. It’s a huge event and generates alot of needed support for the research of MS. Unfortunately, doing an MS walk in downtown Baghdad might not generate as much support as Coach deserves. Fortunately, one of the scores of people affected by this news of Coach has organized a team for the MS bike ride, called the "MS City to Shore Bike Tour". If you'd like to help the MS cause and donate, I implore you to visit the site of the The Wakely Flyers riding team and donate to the cause of MS. I will also put the link in a sidebar on this page for when this blog gets buried in the archives.

1 comment:

Wolf said...

I am the "Man in Black, Chester Wolf, Satan, and among many other terms that I can not say. There are countless that I am not even aware of I am sure. I am writing to respond to Jason's entry in his blog that speaks of his days playing for me at Widener University.

First I should say that Jason was, and is, among the toughest young men I have ever coached. He is honest, sincere, hard working, and a pleasure to be around. He decided to attend Widener to play football and I was fortunate enough to see him try-out for lacrosse. He got the most out of God given ability and was among the most respected players (By me and his teammates) that I have ever known.

It is an honor to count Jason as a friend and I am so proud of the man he has become. Jason speaks so well of my influence over him, but, the reality is that I learned more from Jason than I could ever hope to teach him. What I will miss the most of my time on the sidelines is the relationships with student-athletes like Jason and the opportunity to be a part of their lives as they mature from 18 year old boys to men of character, integrety, and honor.

I pray for Jason's safe return and for his wife and family. I intend to give Jason a big bear hug when I see him and promise to fight back the tears that will certainly be in my eyes.

Jason, be well and god speed!