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  • Writer's pictureEric Spitz

Mourning a Mentor – An Homage to Coach Ed

Several weeks ago, I received a phone call from a close friend and former teammate Greg. It was close to 10:00 PM on a Wednesday, and despite us talking fairly regularly in a Facebook group chat that was originally established for fantasy football, this form of contact was a little out of the norm. A feeling of dread came over me before I picked up the phone, as I could tell this matter was a bit more pressing than normal.

Greg called to inform me that our former Cross Country and Track coach at Saginaw Valley, Coach Ed, passed away earlier that day at the age of 80. I was aware that his mind had been slipping recently due to Alzheimer’s, but I wasn’t aware of any other health conditions. Coach Ed had recently tested positive for COVID-19 while having multi-system organ failure, and was placed on a do not resuscitate order a few days prior.

Greg provided comfort with his words by stating that Coach Ed’s wife Susie was at peace with his passing. We then proceeded to reminisce about Coach Ed and our time spent in Saginaw, who all has stayed in touch with Coach since graduation, and overall diving into much deeper conversation than our usual harmless banter surrounding fantasy sports.

To provide some context, I went to Lansing Community College my first two years after graduating High School, with the intentions of transferring to a four year college after receiving my associate’s to then work towards obtaining my bachelor’s. Where that four year college was going to be, I wasn’t completely sure. I didn’t give it a ton of thought until I was in my second semester at LCC, and I made a meaningful connection with my writing teacher Mr. Michaels who taught classes at both LCC and Saginaw Valley State University.

This teacher probed me with questions on what my intentions were for school, if I planned on continuing my running career at the new institution, and many other questions I should have been asking myself long before a teacher took the time to sit me down and figure it all out. He provided me with an entire folder of printable material and why I should transfer to Saginaw Valley, and made a very compelling argument for obtaining my bachelor’s at the University. This teacher even got me in connection with one of his students, Tyler, who also ran Cross Country and Track at SVSU. To this day, Tyler remains one of my closest friends, and another former teammate from my time spent in Saginaw.

Some of the Saginaw crew during Friendsgiving 2018.

After speaking more with Tyler about my intentions of transferring to Saginaw Valley to continue my running career, I soon got into contact with Coach Ed. I had the privilege of meeting Coach Ed for the first time when both LCC and SVSU competed in the Gina Relays in Hillsdale back in April of 2010. From a running standpoint, I seemed to make a pretty good impression on Coach Ed, hitting a qualifying standard to compete at Nationals for the NJCAA in Hutchinson, Kansas after my first attempt of the 10K. Coach Ed kept in touch with me fairly regularly after that encounter, and wanted me to join the team as a Cardinal when it came time for me to transfer from LCC.

Official photo courtesy of of that 10K in Hillsdale. Tyler is almost out of the frame in front leaving me in the dust.

From first meeting Coach Ed at that Hillsdale meet, and getting the chance to talk to him more in-depth when I went on an official college visit to the school with my close friend and LCC teammate Gareth (who also ended up transferring to SVSU with me), Coach Ed quickly established himself as a personable individual with a passion for running. He was a person who immediately made me feel comfortable, and helped to make the transition for a transfer student feel as smooth as possible. He’s one of the first faces I think of when I think back to my earliest memories at Saginaw Valley.

With the experience I had competing in AAU Track in Junior High, competing throughout High School and then running two years collegiality at LCC, I was used to a wide variety of coaching styles to that point. What made Coach Ed different than the other coaches was his attention to detail for how we were training outside of practice. Every Tuesday he would sit on a bench in the Ryder Center, clipboard in hand, recording everyone’s miles that they ran for the week. Competing at Saginaw Valley was the first instance where I was surrounded by individuals that treated running like a lifestyle rather than just a sport. It wasn’t just encouraged to run extra miles after our daily two hour practices, it was expected. Whenever my turn came to say my weekly mileage, I never wanted to be embarrassed by my response. I also never wanted to disappoint Coach Ed with my number.

When it came to the structure of the practices, myself and some other teammates didn’t always agree with Coach Ed’s methods. The interval workouts were predictable, repetitive, and flat-out boring most of the time. They were drilled into us every week throughout each season, to the point where I felt as if I was just going through the motions, and not getting much of a benefit from the workout. However, Ed’s coaching style emphasized high mileage training combined with establishing a consistent sense of pace, no matter how boring and repetitive it felt. Looking back, even if I didn’t agree with the methods, I couldn’t argue with the results. Under Coach Ed’s training, I’ve posted personal bests in the 1500, 3000, 5K, 8K and 10K that I still haven’t been able to touch since.

Official photo from the Northwood invite where I ran a personal best in the 5K that I haven’t been able to beat since. Ironically, Coach Ed told me to take it easy that day in preparation of my upcoming race in California.

Reflecting on that phone call a few weeks back and how I’ve been processing his passing, the most overwhelming feeling I’ve been having is guilt. As I try to think of the last words I spoke to Coach Ed and the last interaction we had, my mind draws a blank. After my collegiate running career concluded and I finished my remaining classes to get my bachelor’s, I left Saginaw behind and have rarely been back. There was never any ill will or negative feelings toward the city. Life just seemed to happen fast and move forward after graduating and moving back to Lansing.

I feel guilty not having a distinct memory of the last interaction I had with Coach Ed, or the thought of him not knowing how much I admired his passion and dedication to coaching myself and a group of other twenty-somethings. I’ve even been dreading writing all of this out for people to read, as if writing it down would make his passing that much more real, and how our paths went our separate ways after I graduated. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that you should cherish your mentors and let them know how much they mean to you. As I train and compete in my marathons today, I still think back to all of those dull and boring interval workouts in front of the school that helped me establish a sense of pace and how to remain patient in my races. I have Coach Ed to thank for that.

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