By Todd Roberts
I am the the coach, but also the father of Coen Roberts. This situation typically necessitates a complete disconnect between the two identities. Throughout the seven years I have been at Greer High coaching cross country and track I have never been the parent that catches their child immediately after crossing the finish line. I've watched from afar parents share in the utter elation of a great race, or being there to console when their boy or girl feels like the world has ended because of a bad race. Do not mistake me, I love coaching and plan to be involved in the sport as long as I am able. And to coach both sons, Jay and Coen, has been remarkably rewarding. I have been Coach Dad to Coen for the past 9 years.
Coen's 2019 cross country season was amazing. He opened the season besting Ryan Hills' course record at The Eye Opener, a goal since 9th grade. He rolled all season setting other meet and school records, winning his first individual cross country state title and leading his team to the first championship in nearly 60 years. All the while he remained focused on the ultimate prize, a prize highly coveted by most high school cross country runners: Qualifying for Foot Locker Nationals. 2018 was a near miss. Coen was running in eighth place with 400 meters to go. Then the wheels came off and slipped three places to 11th. The first spot out of the qualifying position.
On November 30, 2019 his dream came to fruition. Coen was confident and bold. At the two mile mark his stride was effortless and relaxed. I was as certain as any could be that he would place in the top ten and punch his ticket to San Diego. He finished in 2nd place, clearly fitter than he had ever been and eager to toe the line with 39 of the fastest boys in the country. There was immediate relief as he crossed the finish line. The race had gone exactly as planned and he executed every detail perfectly. He had earned one last high school cross country race.
On a warm, sunny Saturday morning the gun went off hurtling 40 boys from the start line at a breakneck pace. By mile one the pack had settled and came through in a reasonable 4:48. Everyone was still in contention, Coen was in the spot he wanted. I rushed to mile two watching how the race was unfolding. There was a clear leader, Josh Methner, and a substantial chase pack hounding him. Coen was not there. When I first saw him there was obvious physical distress on his face and in his stride. His gait was short and choppy, he grimaced with every step. He was in last place, 40th. I immediately found my way to the finish line hoping for the best.
The competitors began to dash, stumble and dive across the line. I am overcome with so many emotions when I see him shuffling toward the line: fear, anxiety, sadness. Coen struggles across the finish line with tears flowing. As quick as possible I grab him and pull him to the side and embrace him. Once he was in my grasp, I was overcome with calm, gratitude and happiness. I was finally one of the parents at the finish. I was finally the dad there to embrace his child after a tough day.