Imagine spending a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears perfecting a craft that you’re borderline obsessed with, and then placing a huge portion of its success into the hands of someone else. Then couple that with the fact that you’re a type A personality and it’s incredibly hard for you to trust people, and to relinquish control to others.
That’s what I was working with when I decided to “hire” (such an interesting word given our relationship) my husband Jeff as my coach in 2016. Up until that point I was very fortunate to have had great coaches so I was upfront with Jeff that he had big shoes to fill. Thankfully he was up for the challenge, and I felt confident putting my career in his hands.
A little background about my husband Jeff for those who don’t know:
-He was a NCAA champion and three time All American while at the University of Michigan.
-He is a U of M Hall of Famer
-He was a professional hurdler himself for over 10 years
-He made TWO Olympic teams for team USA in the 110 meter hurdles
-He is a true student/fan of the sport and spends his free time learning all he can about it
-He has first hand experience of the mental, recovery, and maintenance aspects of being an athlete
All of these coupled with the fact that I know he genuinely wants to see me succeed made the decision to ask him to coach me very simple.
What did it look like day to day?
Due to Jeff’s job at the time, my sister Cindy (who was also my training partner) thankfully had access to U of M’s brand new world class indoor facility to train on. We would go to practice during Jeff’s lunch break most days, and we had to be flexible with arranging training around his meeting and work schedule.
Now, as many of you already know, I’m also a pharmacist, and I was practicing pharmacy while training. Even though I was part time, and averaged only 1-2 days at the pharmacy during the week, coordinating this work schedule with my training schedule was a challenge.
A typical training day when I had to work in the pharmacy looked like this:
5:30am: wake up, get dressed, nurse my baby
6:15am: leave the house and drive 20 minutes to practice
6:40am: begin warm ups, and complete workout
8:30am: leave the track & drive 15 minutes to the pharmacy
9:00am: open up the pharmacy and begin work
7:00pm: close the pharmacy, drive 20 minutes home
7:30pm: get home, eat dinner, nurse baby to sleep
8:20pm: (sometimes) get my weight lifting session done in our at home gym
9:10pm: (sometimes) ice bath, shower, get ready for bed.
During these early morning sessions, Jeff attended 95% of the time, and as I’m recalling this schedule, I still don’t know how we were able to coordinate all of this. Mind you, Jeff also coached my sister Cindy and also prioritized her training into his work schedule as well.
Guys, if this sounds like a lot, that’s because it was. I often got asked how we juggled it all and as you can see, it took an insane amount of planning an teamwork to make it possible.
How was it balancing track & home life?
Thankfully, Jeff and I had a lot of experience with “love and track” well before he became my coach. We met on the U of M track team back in 2005 and manuvering our relationship while supporting each other’s careers was a skill we had to learn early on. If one of us had a bad meet, we supported each other through it, and learned not to take our frustration out on the other person.
This was the case later on in our athlete/coach relationship as well. If I was upset with how a session went, I had to learn to turn it off and not bring that home during family time. Similarly, if Jeff was excited about a new workout he wanted me and my sister to try, sometimes I would tell him that the athlete in me needed a mental break from track and we would table the sports talk for a later time. Although, in reality it proved impossible at times, I do think overall we did a good job at separating home life and track like. Having a new baby and having to navigate parenthood in addition to our crazy work schedules also proved to be a welcome distraction that prevented us from becoming too consumed with track.
Behind closed doors:
Before Jeff and I officially became parents to Chidera in July of 2019, we experienced the pain of pregnancy loss. I plan on elaborating on that journey in another blog, but as you can imagine, that was a very difficult period for our family. I appreciate Jeff immensely for so graciously taking off the coaching hat and being a pillar of strength for me when I was absolutely crushed.
I tried to muster up strength to “train through the sadness” but this proved futile because taking time off to nurture the pregnancies in those early days meant I was behind on fitness. This was displayed in the 2017 outdoor World Championships in London when I literally had my worst champs performance of my career. Even though I didn’t share the miscarriages with the world at the time, obviously Jeff knew what was going on and did an incredible job helping me get through this period.
This is a testament not only to Jeff’s character, but to the importance of choosing the right partner to do life with. A lesser man may have been disappointed that I was “embarrassing” his coaching abilities by having such a bad series of competitions during this time, but not Jeff. He understood that there are some things in life that are bigger than track, and without his support, I honestly don’t know how I would’ve gotten through those disappointments.
It’s in the tough moments in life when you see a person’s true colors, and I’m so proud of the man that I married. He has stood by me during the good & bad performances on the track, but more importantly, in life. For that I will always be grateful.
Grind to Shine together:
When someone is in the trenches “shooting with you in the gym” it makes the triumphs together that much sweeter.
-the European medal is sweeter when you had to shed 65 pounds of baby weight to get back to peak fitness
-the British title is sweeter when you remember straining your back doing simple hurdle hops those first weeks back training postpartum
-the fast times are sweeter when you recall the stabbing pain in your pelvic region on your first run back post baby
-holding your baby in your arms is sweeter when you experienced the overwhelming sadness of pregnancy loss
Through all of this, Jeff was right there, coaching and encouraging me along the way.
You know how after you graduate, you look back on your time as a student and think “how the heck did I get through all that”?
That’s exactly how I feel as I’m reminiscing on my journey to my third Olympic Games with Jeff as my coach.
As you can see, it took a tremendous amount of dedication, planning, and sacrifice to make my dream a reality. Although now that I’m retired and I couldn’t imagine waking up at 5:30am to go to training, during that time, it had to be done. And that’s exactly what Jeff and I did. Together.