We’re on our way home from a very busy weekend at James Madison University, but I wanted to post my speech from Friday night for my friends and family who weren’t able to attend. More photos and details coming soon! Go Dukes!
A few years ago I was working as a high school science teacher and track coach in Hampton Roads. Inevitably some of the kids found out about my achievements as a student-athlete and wanted to know… so Coach Mollie (DeFrancesco was too long and Coach Turner never stuck for whatever reason) anyway, so Coach Mollie, how do I get a scholarship because I really want to run track in college? Or what’s the deal- how do you become an All American?
So, I would tell them- oh, you have to work hard in practice every day and get good grades, eat right, go to bed early, etc. But… the truth is that you can do all of those things and more and never get to the top level. Because being a student athlete requires A) hard work B) talent and C) a hell of a lot of extremely good luck
And maybe it doesn’t seem like good luck at the time, but looking back now you can see it.
Let me explain…
First- JMU wasn’t my first choice. And before y’all get upset, let me remind you that I was 18 years old and really had no clue about anything as you’ll see from this story. I had it narrowed down to two choices: JMU and… Villanova. My dad took me and my sister on a road trip (I guess- two birds with one stone?) and although I loved both schools for different reasons, I settled on Villanova (I know, gasp). It gets better. My primary reason for selecting that school at the time was… honestly the mall was better. I’m not making this up. And if you know anything about the King of Prussia mall, it really is a NICE mall… I swear.
Luckily for everyone involved, my parents were bums and didn’t turn in my paperwork on time- so instead of attending Villanova I “settled” for JMU. So, thank you mom and dad for being bums and not turning in that paperwork on time. Just kidding, I love you ❤️
Some more examples of good luck and I’m going to attempt some one liners here…
When I say I “walked on” the team… anyone who knew me back then would say that’s pretty accurate because I was basically walking back there.
There was one day in particular when I was a freshman that I remember Coach sent us out on a 5 mile run and I was SO TIRED… so I ran to my dorm and took a nap for 45 minutes, splashed water on my head and ran back to Godwin. That’s a true story.
Getting back to my main point here… YOU NEED A HELL OF A LOT OF GOOD LUCK. After my not so great showing my first year, Coach Henner left and Coach Dave Rinker was hired as the head cross country coach. There are 100 different ways to train a runner, and Coach Rinker’s workouts happened to work well for me. If it weren’t for that change in coaching staff I certainly wouldn’t have had the success that I did.
Now, I’m going to skip over a lot of details here, but after many, many laps around the old Bridgeforth stadium track, eventually we got to here.
I have a lot of people to thank- my high school coach Mark Mindel for getting me started, my coaches at JMU- Coach Henner for my first year and coach Rinker for the majority of my collegiate career. My professors and especially Dr. Mike Goldberger for all of the free counseling sessions and many recommendation letters. My teammates- each and every one of you- you need great teammates to be a great athlete even in an individual sport like running.
I firmly believe that JMU was the right place for me- if I had chosen any other school I would not have flourished the way I did here. That’s also why, if you ask any of my former students or athletes that I coached, I always told them if you want me to write you a recommendation letter FOR JMU no problem! Just don’t ask me to write you a letter for William and Mary.
And last, thanks to my family for traveling so far to be here this evening. My husband and I met while I was in grad school here at JMU but he’s always been supportive of my running and puts up with me in general so he deserves a thank you. And to my two girls, Emmaline and Natalie who will probably be up here giving their own speeches in about 30 years. Love you ❤️