On a recent visit to Fresno, my mom told me that my high school running coach, Ken Israel, had passed away. The news took me off guard, and I was very sad to hear it. Coach Israel was an important person in my teenage years, and much of his advice still sticks with me even though I graduated from Tokay High School 25 years ago.
The first rule he taught me about running was to run your own race, but have a goal in mind or the race will run you. Push yourself, but know your limits or you won’t be any good to your team.
The second rule was when you are finding it hard to breathe, it’s most likely because you’ve tensed up and your shoulders are somewhere up by your ears. He told me to pretend I had my wrists tied around my waist, at hip level. It will automatically cause me to lower my shoulders and relax.
The other rules weren’t overt, but they stuck with me all the same.
The only time Coach got angry with me was on a mile relay race. I wasn’t paying attention and I tripped over the curb at the edge of the track and went down. Coach Israel came striding over and shouted, “Munoz, get out of your head and get in the race!” To this day, when my mind wanders, I hear Coach yelling those words in my ear.
But perhaps the most memorable thing about Coach Israel is that he helped to heal an open wound, at a time when my parents were divorcing. I didn’t see my dad much during my high school years. Coach became a surrogate father to me. He stood in the gap when I faced the chasm of a broken family and the confusion of being a teenager.
Thank you, Coach Israel, for giving me the gift of running my own race, for showing me the consistency of a good man, for yelling at me when I needed it and for reminding me to not tense up. I’m honored to have called you “Coach.”