Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A deep blow

After struggling with nagging injuries and then getting sideswiped with food poisoning I was trying to be positive and not give in to self-pity. I mean, in the big scheme its such a tiny thing. Last night I received a call that I would have traded a lifetime of injuries not to get - one of my best friends was found dead.

Laird Prosser was one of the best of the many great runners I have been privileged to coach. But our relationship went far beyond just helping him run faster than anyone ever had at Dimond High where I coached for 20 years. It was the way he did it, the way he conducted himself and the way we supported each other even after his running career was over. Laird epitomized all the things I wish I could have when I was a young athlete. 

Helping athletes go beyond what they think they can achieve requires so much trust on their part. As a coach you understand what a leap a young athlete makes when they believe in your confidence in them. The joy of success is obvious, but when things don't go well the disappointment is also magnified. On both sides athlete and coach share those moments on a more intense level. Seeing Laird put forth such effort inspired me to be a better coach.

Laird set still standing school and region records and his 800 and 1600 times haven't been matched in 15 years by any runner in Alaska. At Oregon Laird ran 3:46 as a frosh but the following year after running 3:45 he was left off the PAC-10 meet team. Hurt and embarrassed Laird struggled with how to deal with this seeming slap in the face by the coach. I had traveled to the meet in Seattle to watch him and another former runner compete. Laird still came to the meet and as we sat I watched as he was approached by teammates feeding him negative comments about what a raw deal he had gotten. 

Rather than buy into the crap and the suggestion he should leave Oregon, Laird came home told me he wasn't going to let anyone make the decision for him in the future. He set himself to 90-mile training weeks all summer and gave all of us severe beatings when he did a couple of summer races. That fall he was the first runner for the Ducks in their first meet. I used Laird's attitude when I had to make similar decisions for runners whether they would run on varsity or not. I hated to make the decision and tell an athlete that I believed someone else would be "better" than them. I would pass along Laird's example and hope that they wouldn't allow someone else in the future to make that decision for them.

I thought Laird would be the first Alaskan to break four minutes for the mile. Unfortunately, injuries and the Bill Dellinger to Martin Smith change at Oregon kept that from happening. He would help coach with me at Dimond before heading back to school and then one year after he graduated. We added a few things that became staples of our program he brought to us from Oregon. I considered it a huge compliment that he wanted to be part of our coaching staff. I also ran at Dimond and because of the positive experience I had as an athlete I wanted to coach. I was honored that Laird felt the same about his experience.

Despite my sadness I'm filled with so many positive memories with Laird. The huge win his sophomore year in the 1600 defeating the defending state champ and running 4:15. His salute to the Dimond section on the backstretch of his senior year 1600 victory. Even him driving 120 miles from San Diego to LA to pick me up at the airport for the LA Marathon. Who drives that far to pick up a friend? 

He was such a beautiful runner. So smooth and graceful. I loved running next to him because I could feel my form elevate in an effort to match his. I'm going to focus more on carrying that form in the coming miles as I think of him and the many miles we shared. 

I've coached many excellent athletes, but Laird was one of the very, very rare who was just as special an individual. I just lost a great friend, but fortunately I'm left with nothing but special memories of him. 


John said...

What a beautiful tribute to a great athlete, a wonderful friend and an amazing person.
I too was shocked and extremely saddened when Dylan called Monday night with the news of Lairds passing.
Laird was a true inspiration. He always lived with a "go get em" attitude and the lessons I learned from his actions helped me too as both an athlete and a coach.
If only we all could carry ourselves and live our lives in such a manor as Laird.
These next days, weeks, months and years are going to be difficult as we deal with the loss of such a great person. As with you, JC, I am left with nothing but special memories as Laird was truely a special friend.
Thanks for your thoughts.
John Angst

Jole said...

I am sorry for your loss. He sounds like a great guy and an amazing athlete... Keep your chin up!

John Smith said...

John thanks for your post. I remember watching Laird run with pure joy. He was a sight to behold. What I most remember about him running was the smiles he had when he was in 'the zone'. He looked like he was having fun. I will miss him and offer condolences to his friends and family.

John Smith

Scott Hipsak said...

JC, I just heard about this on the news tonight. I am stunned! I remember he was the man to beat in high school. Still sounds like he is. Is a funeral planned? I would like to attend if possible.

Anonymous said...

Wow, What a blow.

I wasn't a runner and not an especially close friend of Laird's, but I remember him well. I don't ever recall seeing Laird angry. I remember how long his toes were. I think I told him this was why he was so fast, and that he may be able to be quite the tree climber with those toes. I also remember that every time he got in my car he figured out something new it could do - like the time he removed the sunroof when I was driving 50 mph past the sandpits. I remember how many friends Laird had, all well deserved. My condolences go out to his friends and family.

With sadness,
Amy Clinton Contre

Anonymous said...

David said...
Laird was a joy. I am heartbroken for his family and friends who loved him as a young man.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever and there will be many places where seeing a person as beautiful will remind me again of him.

Laird was straight forward. He loved his family, especially his mom and dad to whom he showed deep respect and love.

I want to cry, not about the Laird who I knew, but about the loss of Laird no longer being here. He was a man. I can glimpse how he would have fathered his own family remembering the joys that his own family had shared with him.

Dear GOD, in JESUS name I pray, please comfort Laird's family and friends. Help them to give thanks for the times we had. Help them to understand. Help them to see joy again in life. What they gave to Laird in joy, he returned in joy to them. Joy to the world was what Laird was about. Thank you, Dear GOD for YOUR gifts to us. We hope to meet Laird again with YOU. Forgive us our sins for YOU are our SAVIOR. AMEN.