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Try to give what you say the meaning it deserves

The last thing I said was “be careful.”

As I go through the growing pains as a first-year cross country coach at SWCC, I know some days will be better than others.

I have helped runners battle through injuries, harped on the importance of going to class and tried to tow the line between a coach and a friend. Being so close to the same age as more of the kids on the team, the last point often proves to be most difficult.

As a coach, I want to get the best out of my athletes every day. I want them to do all the little things like get to bed early, eat right and turn their homework in on time.

As a recent graduate and former runner, I want my runners to live the college experience to the fullest, make a lot of friends and continue their education as student athletes.

But no coaching book or role model in my life could have prepared me for Thursday afternoon.

It was a beautiful, warm, fall day. Head coach Bill Huntington and I decided to run practice at Green Valley Lake.

The men completed 16, 400-meter repeats and the women 10.

As I sent them home for the evening, like I have done every day since August, I added “be careful.”

Even though I meant it, I had said it so often that I forgot to give the simple words any meaning by the tone of my voice.

On their way back, three athletes were in a vehicle that broke through the railing and crashed into the spillway on 140th Street.

As I rolled up to the accident scene, my heart sank, but I knew my athletes needed my help, so emotions were put on hold, and I went to work as any other coach would.

The next four hours were a blur. I want to give big thanks to the Greater Regional Medical Center paramedics and nurses, Union County Sheriff’s Department, Creston Police and Creston Fire Department for their quick response and effective strategy to get everyone the help they needed.

Also, a big thanks goes to coach Huntington. I’m not sure exactly when he arrived at the scene — he had gone to coach track practice — but I do know he helped at the accident site, was up most of the night in Des Moines and up early the next day to keep everyone comfortable and calm.

If he was stressed or upset, he never let his face or voice show it. He was my rock while I tried to be strong and supportive for the rest of the team.

Accidents happen. Thankfully everyone involved is safe and recovering. But the situation is still a valuable reminder, proving that life is short and unpredictable.

I am doing my best not to half-heartedly say “be careful” to an athlete or “I love you” to a family member. The words we say are only as good as the meaning we put into them.

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