I do not coach many people at a time. I do this for two reasons:
1) I need to know I can give each person the attention and quality they deserve
2) I need to believe there is something I can bring to the plate that will help them
If I don't feel I can help to make them a better athlete, or help them with an all together different goal, I won't work with them. I consider it an enormous privilege - and HUGE responsibility - to be in charge of guiding someone's goals - sometimes their dreams.
I do not take that lightly...
I get enormously attached to my athletes and I get quite attached to their goals, too. Perhaps unhealthily so, I'm not sure their goals should become as important to me as they do, but they do. I've had people who've invested themselves entirely in helping me: JZ, Lucho .... and I know what that meant to me. I tend to take the same approach, which is why I only work with someone with whom I feel a tangible connection.
More than a year ago I was contacted by a man in Alberta Canada, just outside Calgary. He had done some research on me (scary!) and seemed confident he wanted me as his coach. He'd lost 150 lbs (holy crap!), had completed an Ironman and was looking for some greater guidance to help him improve. At the time I was too busy to be able to commit to him and I explained I wanted to be sure I'd have the time to properly help him. I suggested several other coaches who I thought might be great for him, but he didn't want anyone else. He said he would wait until I had time to add him to my coaching list.
A few months later I contacted him to see how he was, and if he was still interesting in working together. Bless his heart, he was THRILLED. :) How sweet. I was his choice. And he waited. He didn't need to and had every right to seek another coach - but he waited. For me.
At the beginning of this month we'd been together almost a year. He had a great masters swimming program he liked, he'd gone to a great tri camp in Canada the previous month that he really enjoyed, and had great friends and resources within his triathlon community where he lived. He hated that he was always the slowest of his group and that everyone was so much better than him. I would try to encourage him in the way I would talk to any athlete (including myself) about those issues: you can only work on yourself and comparisons with others are not fair, everyone comes from different experience levels and learnings. Look how much he had accomplished in 3 years! Most times things were light hearted and great; he always did every workout and always wanted to learn. Discipline was never his issue. Other times he had difficulty believing in himself and believing he could do things (even though the things he had already accomplished were more than most of us ever will). He would be very hard on himself and his self confidence often went in a downward spiral... I'd like to say I was always the consummate cheerleader but sometimes our conversations got heated. At times I was hard on him and threw him the "tough love" card to help try to get him to pull things together. He was stronger than he knew and I would tell him so. Sometimes he believed me. Sometimes he didn't.
In recent months he began to really struggle with insomnia. I empathized with this affliction and we talked a lot about my experience with sleepless nights. His plight seemed somehow worse. He had no experience with this and the sheer exhaustion of it all was breaking him. He would complain of awful nightmares and was concerned on a daily basis that he would lose his job. His stress seemed overwhelming. He worried how much his wife worried for him. He worried how much he thought his training was suffering. He worried that he would never get rest again. He just worried.
4 weeks ago we spoke for over an hour about seeing a doctor to get on some sort of temporary sleep aid just to help him get some relief. But I also suggested he consider seeing a counselor for some of the issues he was struggling with. Like most people trying to combine Ironman with a busy life, he had trouble finding balance and would torture himself for failing at anything. It was awful to hear; I felt for him and tried to get him to ease up on himself.
"At the end of the day, remember triathlon is supposed to be for FUN, honey" , I said to him.
"Yea, I know...", he would reply, from some distant voice.
But then he seemed to improve. On July 5th he sent an email, "I am feeling better!"
A few days after the email I wondered why he wasn't putting any logs in his training. This was unlike him - he was anal and always on top of it. After a few days I sent him an email to check in. No reply. A few more days and no logs. I sent another email, "I know you are probably just really busy, and I'm assuming all is fine, but please just let me know you're ok." No response. A few more days and still no training updates despite my changes in upcoming workouts. He always had questions. :) After an unreturned call to his cell phone, something in me was prompted just to check to make sure nothing was seriously wrong.
I Googled his name. I have no idea why but I did.
I cannot begin to describe the workboot kick to my gut and the sheer HORROR to see the many internet links related to his name:
"Man missing in Calgary"...
"Police looking for Kerry Enick"...
"Body found and is presumed to be Kerry's"...
"Police suspect no foul play"...
............................ with my mouth on the floor, tears sprung to my eyes in an instant as I scoured the internet trying to find information and figure out what to do to help. Unfortunately, by this point, he was already gone. I was too late to do anything to help. A final report revealed he was dead.
I haven't been able to rid myself of the lump in my throat, my glossy eyes or the feeling that I somehow could have (should have) done more for this man. A hell of a lot more than I know I did. I realize that these tragedies don't come down to one person or even one incident... but I cannot shake the feeling that in some very critical moments I somehow failed. I feel I missed opportunities that could have somehow made more of a difference. I wasn't able to help another human being, my true life objective --- and for that I will hold utter devastation and grief probably for the rest of my life. Not guilt. Grief.
I will remember Kerry Enick for being one tough cookie. For giving more than he got. For working so hard to accomplish his goals. For accomplishing more than he sadly gave himself credit for .... and for always doing these things with a loving disposition and hearty laugh. He was a kind man, and a good man.
I hope you are now at peace, my friend. I hope that, finally, you sleep.....
My love and prayers go to his wife, Sharon, and his family.....