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Entering my freshman year at Regis High School in New York City, I knew hardly a soul at the school. I just couldn't wait for winter and basketball tryouts -- that was my strongest sport.
But during the first week of school, a guy in my homeroom convinced me to attend the introductory meeting for the cross country team. I figured it couldn't hurt to check it out. And thus began my four-year tug-of-war with Mr. John Donodeo.
Mr. Donodeo was intense, to put it mildly. He talked faster than the Micro Machines man, and he walked even faster. I was pretty intimidated right off the bat. But I had a guaranteed spot on the squad -- only seven freshmen went out for the team -- and I figured it would be a good way to get in shape for hoops season.
The freshman races were a mile and a half long, at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. That didn't sound too tough. What I didn't realize was our practices would routinely feature 5-, 6- and even 7-mile runs. Basketball practice was a piece of cake compared to that.
What was worse, Mr. Donodeo was on my ass. I was the sixth best runner on a seven-man team, but he treated me like an Olympic prospect. He stalked the course at Van Cortlandt, barking at me just as much as the guys who were way out ahead of me. If he saw me around school with a basketball in my hands during cross country season or outdoor track season in the spring, I'd get one helluva scowl. This went on for four years.
To this day, Mr. Donodeo coaches and teaches at Regis -- he's been there almost 30 years. And to this day, I've felt guilty for skipping a cross country practice or two to play hoops and for cutting a corner or two on some of those 7-mile runs. So I'm taking advantage of this public forum to say, I'm sorry, Mr. Donodeo.
But really, how lucky am I? I got married earlier this summer, and three of those other six cross country runners from my freshman team at Regis were in my wedding party.
Besides those wonderful friends, cross country provided me with a great role model -- a coach who poured his heart and soul into every single practice and every single kid, every day, regardless of whether the kid was the fastest runner on the team or his feet were stuck in the mud, like me.
Thanks, Mr. D.
Kieran Darcy is an editor for Page 2. You can reach him at email@example.com.