Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chapter 31: Sam Coetaine

Beads of Sweat is a book about running.  Today's chapter profiles Springfield team member Sam Coetaine.

Sam Coetaine didn’t run cross country his freshman year.  He did nothing that fall; maybe cause some trouble.  Annoying and immature grade nine shenanigans that some boys just can’t keep from embracing.  After about three months in his new school, he got bored with giving his teachers a hard time and at his dean’s exhorting decided to channel his pent up energy into track and field.  Hartman welcomed him with open arms.  He immediately saw in him what the dean had cautioned him about—an unwavering stream of energy.  He bounced between reps; he never stopped moving; legs always jittering; hands always on someone else; jaw and mouth in perpetual motion; the kid had the attention span of a gnat.  The coaches had to keep their eyes on him every second.  He hardly ever focused on the task at hand—maybe one in ten times—but when he did, Hartman observed a raw talent.  Coetaine was a piece of granite replete with jagged edges and acute perforations. Hartman went into his toolbox and pulled out a chisel and mallet.
            He had seen enough of him to know that cosseting wouldn’t work.  Tough love and an aphorism from Hamlet was the only way to go.  Show you like him, show you care about him, and ride his ass until he’s broken.
            It didn’t take long for the Springfield coaching staff to figure out that they didn’t know what to do with him.  His diamond in the rough quality made finding an event which he could sparkle quite a challenge.  They tried him in everything.  They spent the first two weeks of the season rotating him from station to station to station.  He neither floundered nor impressed in any event.  In some of the more technique driven ones—long jump, hurdles, shot put—he lacked the proper mechanics to excel.  He needed serious coaching and he wasn’t the best pupil.  He’d be pinching a teammate or scratching his ass when a coach attempted a mini-lesson on exploding out of the blocks or landing posture in the pit.  Ultimately, the coaches assigned a rare combination of events to Sam: distance and the high jump.  Distance because it kept him occupied and required the least amount of technique and high jump because it was the field event to which he most gravitated.  Primarily, the coaches speculated, because it allowed him to jump into big, cushy, oversized mattresses without getting into any trouble.  So there he was at fifteen, the team’s only high jumper/miler. 
            Near the end of each practice he sprinted from the distance workout (often skipping out on the last one or two repeats) to the high jump area—almost getting downed by a shot put each time he darted the diagonal across the infield.  The high jump coach was thankful for the distance work.  Sam was almost too exhausted to fiddle and distract the four other jumpers.  Oddly enough, his fatigue helped his concentration.  He actually listened to the coach.  Made mental notes.  Took what he learned and applied it to his next jump.
            He improved in halves of inches.  5’2,” 5’3,” 5’4 ½ ,” all the way up to 5’6” by the end of his freshman year.  Every time he cleared a height he’d pause for a moment to make sure it was true before leaping up and sprinting off the mat with an energy only known to teenage boys and puppies.  He’d go right to his coach looking for congratulations and somebody with whom he could share his pride.  If he didn’t clear the bar, well, that was another story.  A morose one.  He’d put his head down, avoid eye contact, droop his shoulders, swear audibly, and sulk all the way back to the deck area.  Despite the rough exterior—the profane language, the jagged facial features, the inaccessible gesticulations—he lived his life like a six-year-old boy.  Not intentionally.  That’s just the way he was.  Emotionally, the kid was a Lenox Hummel and the coaches were the bubble wrap.  Never mind a rock or a stone, if a pebble lay in this kid’s path, he’d look to quit and go the other way. 
            Much like a single student can consume hours and hours of a teacher’s time, Coetaine, unbeknownst to him, devoured that precious resource on a ratio usually only reserved for top athletes, state champions.  For one thing, his technique, although improved, read very much like a rough draft as opposed to a polished manuscript. A second thing, his energy was boundless.  One more, one more, he never got tired. Another thing, his head demanded constant attention.  Ride him; build him up.  Ride him; build him up.  Ride him publically; build him up privately.  Yell at him for tugging at a teammate’s shirt; convince him not to quit in the middle of a meet when he doesn’t clear his first two attempts.
            Of course, his maturity and mental makeup precluded him from any type of long term planning.  Carpe diem dominated.  Asking him to look ahead or plan for the future was not something that he could developmentally handle.  It even said so in his IEP.  Cross-country requires long term planning.  No long term planning.  No cross-country success.  Now in the last two years Coetaine had ameliorated himself in fifteen different ways—no more outbursts, much less touching—but he still couldn’t grasp the concepts of long term goal setting or delayed gratification.  If you could keep his attention long enough to explain this concept to him, he’d smile and nod and understand it in the moment.  Sounded good in theory but he just couldn’t do it.  Well, maybe he’d do it for a day or two then he’d lose interest.  No discipline.  A thorn in a coach’s oblique.  Hence, the summer training dilemma.  When he thought about it, he wanted to do it.  When he was in bed or at work or in any other activity besides running, he wanted to go out and train.  But when he had the time to go out and do it, when he was staring at a four-hour block of emptiness, he’d somehow manage not to do it.  Each night ended the same way: a twinge of compunction and a promise to wakeup first thing and go for a jog.  The morning came and he really wasn’t a morning runner and he’d get in such a better workout if he waited until the afternoon and there he was in bed again after a long and listless day saying, “Tomorrow.  I’ll go for a run tomorrow.”
            The team took measures to get him going.  They’d call and text him.  One Hill @ 5:00.  Coetaine would flake out.  Sometimes sincerely forget.  Other times blow it off.  Didn’t want to be held accountable for what he didn’t do in July.  Simply the potential of being called out kept him away.
            A couple of times the guys ran to his house and knocked on his door.  When nobody answered they picked up pebbles and threw them at his window.  A crude impromptu carillon.  They did just about everything except stand outside his sill with a boombox blearing.  Their efforts paid off once or twice.  They got him out there and he ran well.  Other times he’d open up his window and conjure excuses.
            -I already ran today.
            -I did!
            -How far?
            -…Five miles.
            -Oh come on.
            -Do doubles then.
            -I gotta go to work.
            Or another time: I got a girl in my room.  Tomorrow.  Come by tomorrow.
            Jenkins and Hammond were only willing to halt their run for so long.  All too often they left sans Sam.  In time they gave up trying.
            To complicate and further contribute to his junior summer slack was the girlfriend situation.  He went and got himself one.  In his sophomore year he started dating girls on and off.  His funny, daring personality appealed to an array of despondent and insecure girls from the reserved to the equally extroverted and spastic.  He went to the movies with both Amy and Susie (at different times) from the girls’ team.  Coetaine bragged to the team that he made it to second base in the theatre with Susie, and when Susie heard the news that was the end of that.  His exploits were public record.  He threw modesty out the window and replaced it with exaggeration and hyperbole.  A handhold morphed into a grope fest.  A peck on the cheek became a blowjob.  He couldn’t help himself.  He loved telling tales to the boys.  Some freshmen even believed him.
            But now he had a girl from another city that seemed to stick and his tall tales and exaggerations transmuted into nonfiction.  He himself couldn’t believe his good fortunes.  I can’t believe she’s letting me do this right now…seventh heaven.  He became singular in focus and that focus was not running in hot, humid summer weather.


Anonymous said...

I currently coach a Coetaine. Thorn in the obliques is spot on.


Anonymous said...

I've been curious about this Coetaine kid. I like this biographical chapter on the various runners the best. From the lack of focus and boundless energy to the embellished BJ stories, you've perfectly sculpted the quintessential HS adolescent. Nice job!


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