House Divided Brings Joy to Mom and Cross Country Coach

Michelle Santor talks with about her journey to coaching and how she has overcome challenges in life and relates it to her athletes today.

Can you tell us how did you first get involved in the sport? 
I first got involved into running when I was in seventh grade. It was actually not my first choice, I actually wanted to play soccer, but I went to a small private school and the soccer team was only for high school students. However the cross country team was a small team coached by one of my best friend's Mom, and she encouraged my friends and I to come out and try out.  

I never knew I would fall in love with running and actually be good at it.  I think I shocked myself, my coach, my team and my family.  My Mom tells a story that they went to watch me run the Freihofer Race for Women in Albany, N.Y.  There were over 5,000 runners in the 5K. She says they were standing on the side of the road and all of the sudden I came running towards the finish line and they were in complete shock.  I placed first in my age group and fifth overall.  I have several records still in place in both XC and track.  I still have a large scrapbook full of all the newspaper clippings and many of my bibs from races. One of my favorites is still my name appearing in Runner's World. 

Do you compete today? 
Currently, I do not compete mostly because of time constraints with family and coaching.  However my kids are now young adults so I can see myself getting into competing again as I still am an avid runner.

How do you reflect on your high school and college days in the sport?  
Honestly, my memories of XC running are some of my best memories growing up.  I feel the sport has helped mold me into the adult I am today. The will to win, the drive to stay fit and live an active lifestyle, and the passion to keep up with running locally, nationally and worldly.  I have made lifelong friends from the sport. I still keep in contact with many of my fellow teammates and I am old (hah)! 

What is your role in the sport today?
My role today is assistant coach (Coach Santor) at Oceanside Collegiate Academy in Mount Pleasant.  I am blessed to be able  to work alongside of an amazing Head Coach, Marie Domin and my son, Assistant Coach Shea Santor. For  many years I was just Mom cheering my own kids on in XC and track. Both of my daughters, Emma Santor and Chloe Santor competed at Wando in XC and Track and my son Shea was the Wando Track manager under Coach Shiver and Coach Davis.  My daughter Emma actually ran for Coach Domin for a time at Wando and that is how I first met Coach (Domin). 

Can you tell us about some challenges you have encountered in life and how you talk with athletes about these challenges? 
Back in 2002, I was working as a realtor showing a home, when out of nowhere I passed out , fell and broke my neck, eye socket and nose. It was a very difficult time for me and my family. My husband and I had three young children, the youngest at the time four months old.  I had months of recovery and had to relearn many things. Even to this day, I have pain but am not a person to let that slow me down. I wake up everyday thankful that I can walk, run, garden , cook and be a supportive and loving wife and Mom.

It is an absolute joy as a mom watching my kids grow their passion of running into their next chapter of their life.

Another example of a life challenge that I have had to face and handle was my recent diagnosis of melanoma (skin cancer) on my thigh.  It was in the beginning of September just when our season was taking off with back to back meets Wednesdays and Saturdays. The diagnosis took the wind right out of my sails. I was not prepared to have to face the unknown and quickly realized I had to have surgery and then take the time to take care of myself and allow others to help me.  I was super blessed with a supportive family , friends and team. The surgery was pretty aggressive .  I am blessed to report I am recovering and have used this to bring awareness to my family, friends and athletes and their families.  I recently sat down with our runners and talked with them on my recent health scare.  I explained to them why I had been absent and that difficult times make strong people. That the fight is within us and that we must manifest how we think and approach things. Challenges are not sent to destroy us but to strengthen us. These life challenges have made me want to be a better me and I will continue to focus on the bright spots in life. Our team mantra for this  season is to "Never Give Up!" 

How do you look at the sport in relation to life?
I feel that sport goes way beyond learning physical skills. I think it helps you develop better ways to cope with the highs and lows of life. Leadership and maturity are lessons that are quickly learned in sport.  Cross country is an individual sport where you get to work in a team environment to meet or exceed  your own personal goals. I understand you have family involved in the sport, please explain.  Yes I do!! As I stated earlier all three of my kids were involved in the sport at Wando. My daughter, Emma is a first-year special education teacher and cross country coach at Philip Simmons and is loving it. My son Shea, is a full time junior at the College of Charleston as a physical education major. Shea works alongside of myself and Coach Domin at OCA.  So you could say we are now a house divided. It is an absolute joy as a mom watching my kids grow their passion of running into their next chapter of their life.

Anything else we are missing?
One of my favorite things as a coach is to share my passion of running with them, being a mentor of kindness and giving them encouragement and support along with plenty of running and racing tips. I am so thankful to the kids for showing up and doing their best and to their families for sharing their kids with us. 

Photographs provided