Late last week the school community I work within, Tandem Friends School, lost a cherished member. John Davis, who taught history and coached soccer at our school for 10 years, succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 55. John was one of those people who was larger than life: he filled up the room with a joyful personality and an intense sense of purpose. His classroom was a place of rigor and respect. Yet, it was on the soccer field where John was truly in his element.
Known to a generation of Tandem athletes as “Coach John,” he had a unique ability to build and maintain a deep sense of culture on his teams. Understanding the importance of balancing individual talent and ability with community understanding, John made his athletes feel loved. As is the case with many natural motivators, John had a way with words and was known for many great mantras and turns of phrase. For me, his most compelling mantra, which he shared frequently with his players, was his “Three R’s:” Release, Re-Focus, Refine.
In many of my conversations with John over the years, the talk often turned to my running as John was the kind of guy who was always interested in others. As a lifelong athlete himself, John was fascinated with all things sports and found the idea of running 100 miles particularly intriguing. He suggested his three R’s mantra might apply to me as much as it did to his high-school soccer players. And, as with many things in his life, he was spot on.
Running an ultra, particularly a long one, takes a certain amount of faith. And, along with that faith comes an element of risk. Being able to release oneself into the unknown, into the essence of the running endeavor, is often the first step in a successful career. It takes a certain amount of confidence to make a full release but I have felt over the years that once I do I can achieve a degree of success that I didn’t think was possible.
Like many other ultrarunners trying to juggle families, full-time jobs, and the vicissitudes of life, more often than not I lose focus. Coach Davis was aware of this tendency in most people and felt that at those times of drift when you summon the energy to fully release it is the perfect time to re-focus. The perfect time to re-direct energy inward and let the head and the heart congeal. In those moments when the mental and the emotional become one, the possibilities are endless.
John was the living embodiment of the lifelong learner and his passion for history and for sport was infectious. Out of that contagion, came the third of his R’s, refine. For me, in running and in life, it is essentially to seek refinement continually. Whether learning from the challenge of a hard workout or a race that didn’t go my way to dealing with the fatigue and malaise of a difficult training cycle. Out of that push to refine I become a better runner and a better person.
John Davis’s gift to our students and teachers will be a part of us always. His three R’s will certainly remain a part of my running and my life for as long as I can put one foot in front of the other and even thereafter. His lessons to us all are indelible and he will be sorely missed.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s beer of the week comes from a local Charlottesville, Virginia brewery located just down the street from Tandem Friends School. South Street Brewery features a delicious Amber Ale affectionately called Satan’s Pony. Smooth drinking and malty, Satan’s Pony is a perfect soccer lover’s beer.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
If you were asked to release, re-focus, and refine your running, what would that look like? And what about some other important aspect of your life?