Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Coach - an Empowering Portrait

Running for Indiana State

When I first met Dani, I wanted to run her into the ground.  Literally.  Back in my competitive running days, she was my #1 middle school rival, running for a team across town.  Initially, I lamented that this soccer player was suddenly taking our Indiana cross country world by storm.  She ran away from me in high school, breaking records and winning big races, and I doubt she ever looked back!

That being said, off the track we were actually friends; that's the beauty of runners.  We may compete with each other and throw elbows during a race, but we are all part of the same family.  No one else knows the dedication it takes, the pain you go through, how much you push yourself physically and mentally.  And in the case of Dani, she's the runner all the other girls wanted to be like!

Dani grew up in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, in the house her Daddy built.  How much more Hoosier can you get?  A lot more.  She spent her childhood loving the Indianapolis Colts, Hoosier Football, riding bikes, and playing outside.

"My entire extended family lives in Bloomington," Dani said, "[so] it made for a fun childhood where family pool parties and get-togethers were the norm.  My family has definitely shaped who I am."

Dani also spent time playing sports, like softball and soccer, which helped her realize where her true talent was.

"In softball, I usually got stuck playing outfield, not for my strong throwing arm, but because I could get to the ball before anyone else... even if I couldn't throw the ball anywhere near the infield.  [In soccer] I played forward, again because I could get to the ball faster than most, even though I didn't do much with it when I got there."

Dani went out for the cross country team in middle school to stay in shape for soccer, but that was nearly the end of her running career: she drank a big glass of milk before tryouts, and finished dead last.  In the spring, she went out for the track team... and broke six school records.  A star was born.  Dani gave up soccer, and committed to running for good.

"[Choosing running was] probably the smartest, most life-altering decision I've made," Dani said, "That decision led to a successful high school career, which led to a scholarship to run for Indiana State University, which led to the opportunity to train post-collegiately with a training group sponsored by the shoe company, Brooks. I've been able to travel across the U.S., see many different things, meet many different people, and have built lifelong friendships, thanks to running."

But one of the best things about Dani is that she is not just an individual runner.  She is a teacher and a coach, giving back to kids every day, kids a bit like we used to be!  Dani coaches the Bloomington South Panthers, her high school alma mater.  It's definitely different being on 'the other side' of the stopwatch.

"Coaching is so much fun and I now have much more respect for the coaches I have had in the past," Dani said.  "It allows me to combine my running with my profession as a teacher. I have never been more nervous for a race than when it's my girls at the line, and not myself. You have no control as a coach. The gun goes off and you can cheer them on and yell advice, but they are the ones that decide whether or not to stay with the pack or drop off. After that realization, I made it a priority to teach my girls how to recognize what to do in different situations, much like a teacher instructs a child how to multiply. A teacher may know how to do it, but a child has to be the one to apply the skills."

Being such a young coach has its share of humorous moments.  From other coaches thinking she's a participating runner and not a coach, to teenage boys mistaking her for a teenage girl teammate, most people don't expect to see a 25-year-old leading her team to championships.  For Dani, it allows her to relate to her girls as a runner, who still actively trains for races, and as a young woman who understands what they are going through in their daily lives.  But her runners should never assume her youth means they can take advantage of their coach.

"My girls know they can't get away with complaining," Dani said.  "Whining gets you nowhere when your coach ran 15 miles that morning... they know I have no sympathy!"

While the amount of time Dani spends training varies depending upon the race she is preparing for (she will run 20-mile long runs when prepping for marathons!), she averages 60-70 miles per week when training for the half-marathon.  She doesn't follow a strict diet plan, but maintains balance in what she eats.

"I believe if you're working out that much, then you deserve to indulge on dessert, a beer, or a stop through the Wendy's or Starbucks drive-thru. As long as it isn't a daily habit, then it won't affect my training and will help keep me sane."

The Angler
Another thing that keeps her sane?  When she has some free time, Dani loves to go fishing.

"It's always peaceful to me," she said, "While I don't always have the patience it takes to be a great angler, it gets me outside, on the side of the water, and away from the go go go lifestyle I have. I teach during the day, work at Target at night, run everyday, and then devote my life to coaching from June to November. Getting to the lake and throwing out a line gives me a few moments of quiet and a calming view to take in."

If you're looking for motivation to get off the couch and run, Dani's best advice is: Get a training buddy!

"I have found in the past year, the busier I get, the more tired I become, and the less motivated I am to get myself out the door," Dani said,  "I'm fortunate to have a running buddy in my friend, Allison, and occasionally my cross country team. It is always easier to get out the door when you know someone is waiting there for you. You are ALWAYS glad you did it when it's all over. So, if you are thinking of starting a new workout plan, find a friend, coworker or relative to do it with you, or join a class of some sort. It will provide accountability and help keep you from backing out of a workout when you're tired."

Dani motivated me for years to get my running shoes on...  I think now she's getting me to do it again.

Dani coaching the Panthers

Empowering Portrait Lightning Round Questions!

If you turned on my iPod right now, I'd be listening to: Jason Aldean : Dirt Road Anthem, Adele: Set Fire to the Rain, Sleeping With Sirens: If You Can't Hang. (I have a very wide taste in music).

I never leave home without my: running clothes and iPod. My schedule is very full and sporadic. I like to have my running stuff with me just in case I get an unexpected gap to get it done.

If I could teleport to any place in the world right now, I'd be: in Oklahoma City. Boring, I know, but my brother moved there in October and I haven't seen him since Christmas. We've never been a part that long and I'd love to see him.... while skipping over the boring 12 hour drive through Kansas.

I have never: been stung by a bee or a wasp. My brother is allergic, so I hope I don't have to find out the hard way that I am as well. However, while my scent must repel bees, it attracts mosquitoes. The past 2 summers I've had 60-70 bites at one time... 90% of those being just on my legs. (Try running with bites on your feet and ankles!!!)

If I were an animal, I would be: a sea lion. I love them and they seem so curious and like they are always having a good time. They are always playing, looking around, or basking in the sun. That's a life I could get used to... minus the getting chased and eaten by great white sharks part.

If you had some advice for your 16-year-old self, what would it be? Make decisions for yourself and stop worrying about what others will think about it. 10 years from now the only decisions you will regret are the ones you made thinking, "this is what _________ would want me to do". And 50 years from now YOU will be the one living your life, no one else. So stop living your life like it's someone else's... start making the life you want to live.

Inspired to become a runner?  Don't forget our Road ID giveaway!!!

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