Let Adversity Be Part of Your Story

"Every great story ever told involves overcoming adversity."

Most of us have heard at least some version of that quote over the years. It may well be one of those quotes that is heard so often that it almost becomes cliché. But here's something I've always believed about clichés: The reason they become used so much is because they are pretty good...they mean something.

My reference to the quote comes from the book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, which -- among other themes -- talks about looking at life and learning to admire everything that seems different or hard.

Difficult times, it says, are part of your story. Each of us is part of the bigger picture. You get to decide how you come away from the tough times.

Which brings us to today. We're all pained, to some degree, on the loss of spring sports in Kansas (and around the country). We all hurt for seniors, especially, who had looked at this as their final hurrah in high school athletics. I get it.

But there's a lot of life to be lived.

Raising my own kids, I remember how they used to think that summer baseball was such a big deal. Then they got to middle school and that was the big deal - they no longer thought summer baseball was the big time. Then they got to high school, and junior high wasn't so hot anymore. Then college...you get the idea.

We may have lost our high school season this year, but there's more good ahead.

The fact is that we live in a world where uncertainty will rear its head when you don't expect it. The lesson, perhaps, all of us can take from losing a season of high school sports is that we should treasure the moments when we can compete, when we can enjoy the ability to run, jump, throw and enjoy the camaraderie that is built through challenging your individual limits.

Yes, I hurt for the seniors, and for all the high school athletes. But here's your chance - make this part of your story. Go on...do greater things tomorrow. Let your fire burn even hotter.

Make this bump in the road part of your story.

Remembering Bob Schmoekel

The Kansas track and field and cross country community lost a beautiful man and coach in late March.

Bob Schmoekel, who taught and coached at Junction City High School for 50 years, passed away after a lengthy illness. During his time as a coach for the Bluejays, Junction City won four boys and five girls state track and field championships (and 24 top three finishes between the two programs), and back-to-back boys cross country state titles in 1986 and 1987.

But ultimately, a man's true measure isn't on the athletic field. So I asked former Junction City standout, Tim Testa (currently a coach at Junction City), about the impact coach Schmoekel had on him as a young man.

Here's what Tim told me:

"Coach was the reason I started distance running. He was the only running coach that I had from fifth grade to senior year. Being able to learn so much about the sport and about coaching has helped me become the person that I am today. Coach always spoke and coached from the heart. He instilled that in me and my teammates and his belief in us made us better than anyone else could. I miss him dearly. He was an incredible person. If we can all be half the person that coach Schmoekel was, the world would be a much better place."

Testa went on to a solid college career at Pittsburg State University. He's also a good guy, reflecting the ideals that Schmoekel taught him. Which, I say, is the most remarkable way to make sure the spirit of men like Bob Schmoekel lives on.

My heartfelt sympathies to coach Schmoekel's family as well as the Junction City community.

Below: Bob Schmoekel (back row on the left) led the 1987 Junction City boys cross country team to the Kansas class 6A state title.

Catching up with...Amy Mortimer

Amy Mortimer was Kansas' most dominant female distance runner from 1995 to 1999, competing for Riley County High School. She was a four-time state champion in cross country and the 3200 meter run, three-time champ in the 1600 meter run, and two-time champ at 800 meters.

As a high schooler, she set class 3A state records in the 3200 (10:34), 1600 (4:57) and 800 (2:10), and won the prestigious Golden West Mile in 1999. She re-defined girls distance running in the state, setting the bar high for girls who came after her.

Mortimer went on to a remarkable college career at Kansas State University, earning 13 NCAA Division I All American honors. She finished in the top 10 at the U.S. track and field championships eight straight years, and competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Mortimer, now known as Amy Garman, is married with two children. She worked as a certified public accountant and later earned a doctoral degree from the University of Kansas in accounting.

I asked Amy if she had words of encouragement for high school athletes who lost out on the 2020 track and field season, and here's what she told me:

"Running was so important to me for 20 years of my life and it helped me hone skills of discipline and sacrifice that have been so useful to me later on. I can only imagine the disappointment and sadness that this year's track athletes are feeling at losing a season that they had been working toward."

"Although sports teach us many valuable skills, there are times where it is good for us to realize that many things that we may take for granted are much more important than sports. Please know that while losing your season is devastating and the feelings of grief that you feel are very real (and there is nothing wrong with feeling them!), that the sacrifice of your season is for the greater good of those around you. I personally want to thank you for the sacrifice you are making to help protect our communities."

"One of the most important lessons that sports teach us about life is how to take a devastating disappointment and turn it into something positive. Maybe this is the time for you to give your body some rest, or take some time to work on endurance or other skills that can be accomplished solo. Now that we have so many distractions stripped away, this can be a time of renewal for many of us. For me, this has always included giving myself some time to grieve what I lost and I encourage you to take this time. Lick your wounds and prepare to get back out on the battlefield with renewed energy. Things will be forever changed after this, but track athletes are resilient people and we will come back with vigor."

This week in Kansas track and field history...

Two years ago this weekend, the state's best javelin throwers were letting the spear fly - right up to the top of the national rankings. Olathe North's Dana Baker, a senior, won the Blue Valley Northwest Spring Classic with a toss of 153-4, and Haysville-Campus standout Camryn Huggans won twice - 143-1 at the Eisenhower (Goddard) Invitational and 140-2 at the Joe Vann Invitational in Winfield.

Manhattan's Sam Hankins, who was the nation's top thrower in the boys' rankings with a throw of 211-10 earlier in the season, won the Jerry Beardslee Invitational at Washburn Rural with a toss of 196-1.

At that same meet, Zac Chandler of Washburn Rural broke a 24-year school record in the pole vault, clearing 15-1 to win his team's home meet. Chandler's mark highlighted a week in which 11 of the state's top 12 vaults to that point were put on the board.

Virtual racing? Safety first

While the middle school and high school sports season was wiped out by the COVID-19 outbreak, so was the entire schedule of road races, triathlons, biathlons and similar events.

It has led to a heightened popularity of virtual racing - basically an opportunity for competitive and non-competitive athletes alike to complete a race distance on their own time and on their own course. Then, you report your time to the race director and get slotted into "virtual" results.

It's a great way to release a little bit of those competitive juices you have built up, but a caution: Remember that one way to beat this nasty coronavirus is to maintain social distance. While many of us may think we're invincible, we still can catch and carry the coronavirus. As you get your workouts in or participate in virtual races, keep your distance from others.

And, of course, be safe out there on the roads, as always.

Tell me your stories...

My column will appear each Sunday through May on Kansas MileSplit. I want this column to be about Kansas high school athletes and coaches, so send me your stories!

Email to melgares@LetsGoRun.com and I'll share in this column some of your memories and experiences. Respond to any one of the following categories:

    * Describe the most unusual thing that ever happened to you during your high school athletic (or coaching) career.

    * Describe the funniest experience you have ever had as a high school athlete (or coach).

    * Describe your greatest surprise -- maybe a great race memory? -- you have ever had as a high school athlete (or coach).

    * Describe something one of your coaches (or athletes) would always say and how it may have inspired you, made you laugh, or made you say, 'What?!'

    Parents, friends, family, coaches or anyone else are all welcome to send me stories about their favorite high school athlete or coach. I will try to include all stories as they come to me, as reasonable.

    Have a great week...and stay safe!

    Coaches: If you know a former Kansas athlete who we might feature in our "Catching up with..." section, please send name and contact information for the athlete to Pat Melgares, melgares@LetsGoRun.com.