Two Year Anniversary
The date May 18 holds special meaning to me. On that date in 2008, in some ways, the world changed.
When I woke up that morning Shannon Rowbury was one of many promising US middle distance runners. She was scheduled to race at the Adidas Track Classic, it was her second attempt of the season to run the 1500 meter Olympic “A” standard of 4:07.00. While running under 4:07 would not guarantee her a spot on the Olympic team, it would make the road to the Beijing Olympics quite a bit easier. Two weeks earlier at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford she had just missed the standard, running 4:07.59.
By the time I went to sleep that night I had a new “claim to fame.” I was now the high school coach of the fifth fastest American woman 1500 meter runner in history… and the owner of two tickets to watch the women’s 1500 meter semi-final at the 2008 Olympics.
But my story really begins the day before.
May 17, 2008
Shannon was to be inducted into the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame, but she was unable to attend the induction banquet because of the meet in Carson, CA. She asked me to accept on her behalf and I was honored to do so. It made for a hectic day because I was coaching two Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory athletes, Jocelyn Rodriguez and Reilly Hall, at the Central Coast Section (CCS) track & field trials in Gilroy, CA; it was worth it to be able to accept on Shannon’s behalf. Jocelyn ran well and qualified for CCS finals in the 3200 meters and then had to rush back, too, because she was receiving a scholarship from the SF Prep Hall of Fame. So after the meet, we all headed back towards the city trying to make it in time for the dinner.
As fate would have it, as assistant coach Christine Jegan and I were driving up the 101 towards San Francisco, my Ford Explorer started making a weird sound. The car lost power as I pulled off the highway at an exit in Sunnyvale. Now we were really going to be late! I later learned that the car had a blown head gasket, and it was the end for my Explorer. After 14 years and 182,000 miles the Explorer died doing what it did for me for so many years, rushing me to and from a track meet.
Fortunately assistant coach Tomas Palermo, who was already at the banquet with my wife Malinda, drove all the way down to Sunnyvale to get us. Christine and I changed out of our coaching clothes and into our dress clothes in the car while Tomas sped us up the 280 to the banquet. I walked in just as Jocelyn was thanking me, and a few minutes later I was at the podium receiving the award for Shannon. As part of my speech I mentioned that the reason Shannon wasn’t there to receive the honor was that she had an important race the next day.
May 18, 2008
Malinda and I got up in the morning cable-TV-less as usual. We knew we would have to go somewhere to watch Shannon’s race on ESPN, but now were also car-less. We spent too long deciding what to do. Upon realizing we had just 40 minutes until Shannon’s race we ran to the BART station at 24th Street and Mission, rode BART to Balboa Park, and then started running down Ocean Avenue towards my parents’ house. I spotted a K-line street car and we started sprinting to the next stop to get on. I was ahead of Malinda by half a block and it wasn’t certain she would get to the bus stop in time. “Go without me if you have to,” she yelled, “I’ll meet you at your parents.” Fortunately the light turned red so the bus had to wait and Malinda was able to get on to the K with me. As we neared our stop, I called my mom on my cell phone and asked her to turn on the television and open the front door because we were almost there. We got off at Fairfield Way and ran up the hill to my parents’ house. We arrived in my parents’ living room sweating, breathing hard, with less than a minute to spare before Shannon’s race began.
Our big race to my parents’ house was over, Shannon’s big race was just beginning. Shannon ran 4:01.61, not only under the Olympic A standard but also the fifth fastest time by an American woman in history. Like it or not, she was no longer the underdog trying to sneak onto the Olympic team. She was now the favorite to win the Olympic Trials 1500. The subsequent talk on running message boards was of “Rowbury’s medal chances in Beijing.” Our Olympic effort to get to the television to watch the race live was definitely worth it.
We had previously purchased tickets for the women’s 1500 meter preliminaries and final just in case Shannon made it. At home that night, we decided – now that Shannon had run 4:01 – we needed to get our hands on the 1500 semi-final tickets, too. We had to pay scalper’s prices to get these tickets because the men’s 110 hurdles final would be run on the same night and China’s Liu Xiang was hoping to win a gold medal in front of the home fans.
It was really Malinda’s idea to spend the money. She was really into the Olympic excitement by this point. She mentioned that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity presenting itself and that we wouldn’t want to go all the way to China and miss this race because we were worried about spending too much money.
That night, a tagline that I would become known for was born. The people at Visa (the only credit card accepted at the Olympic Games) might not be happy that this tagline uses their competitor’s theme:
Hotel in Beijing – 10,875 CNY.
Tickets to Olympic Track Meet – $520.
Watching the kid you coached in high school run in the Olympics – priceless!
That’s the story of why May 18 is a significant anniversary to me. Shannon’s status as an athlete changed with that 4:01.61. She would never come from off the radar again. While I have always been proud of Shannon, this accomplishment truly ranked ahead of her previous successes. In the weeks that followed there was a bit of a media blitz as people in the running world tried to find out who this “new girl on the scene” was. I was lucky to be part of all the excitement leading up to it.