An Open Letter to Coach Woodside

Dear Coach,

How are you? It’s been a while since we’ve talked. Sorry for the lack of contact. Life happens, I guess… After five years in the state of Washington and a masters degree in Boston I’m starting my third year in Thailand. Now that I’ve been out in the world a little, it’s cool to think about the people who have had a profound impact on my life, one of whom is definitely you!

When I showed up for track and field in the spring of 2001, you were a welcoming presence. I had finished up the soccer season in the fall and was told I needed to run a 6 minute mile before next season. To my surprise and awe, my first track meet I ran a 5:37. Little did I know I wouldn’t be joining the soccer team in the fall. You empowered me to accomplish things I didn’t think were possible. You encouraged me – and all of us – and created a great community of athletes. A community that kept me doing cross country, winter track, and spring track for the rest of my high school career. Thank you.

You lived out the meaning of dedication. I have memories of you mapping out dozens of courses throughout Princeton with your bike. And on hot days you would have water stations on the back of your maroon Ford every mile or so. (I remember that “moe” bumper sticker you had, too. I think it was your son’s…) In track, you would start us off, run across the field to give us our 200 meter split, and then run back to give us our lap time. If I estimate all the time I spent with you as my coach in high school I think it’s somewhere around 1500 hours. You were so dedicated. Thank you.

You helped me to find my place on the team. In track, you trained me to become a 400 meter hurdler, which filled a void on our team. I remember one meet in particular against Ewing. It was a long shot for us to beat them but there were a few key events we had to win if we were to have a shot. The first of those was the 400 meter hurdles. You impressed upon me the importance of that race. I remember pushing myself to my absolute limits and falling down on the finish line just beating out their top runner. We didn’t end up winning the meet but you taught me a valuable lesson about pushing myself and doing what I can to help the team. Thank you.

A life principle I learned from you that I have since applied to most aspects of my life is that in order to grow and accomplish our goals, we must push ourselves beyond what we think we can do. And in those moments of trial and pain when we want to give up, we push on and trust. I remember doing endless grueling 400 meter repeats. With two more to go, we would be totally dead and you would say, “Now, this is the most important part of the workout!” In those moments of feeling worn out, tired, and powerless, it’s then where we grow. It was an important message for a dyslexic who was struggling with basic reading and writing in school. Hearing that message and internalizing it in my mind and heart helped me graduate from high school, go to college, and get a masters degree. Thank you.

You are a great leader. I remember you had an individual relationship with each of us. You knew our stories, our best times, and what we needed to do to improve. You used to also say that I reminded you of yourself as a runner. I felt like I belonged, even though I was never one of the fastest guys on the team. We trusted you and respected you. But you were never so serious that we couldn’t be ourselves. You even let us call you Woody. You are hilarious and I remember laughing a lot during practices. Thank you.

I know my story isn’t unique. You had a profound effect on hundreds of us over the years. And I’m sure each athlete you coached could tell their own stories of your dedication and leadership. You have been a blessing to the Princeton community and I fully trust you will be a blessing wherever you go and whatever you do.

For everything you’ve done for me back at PHS as well as the enduring lessons of perseverance, leadership, and trust that I apply in my life today, thank you.

Ozzie

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