This morning as I sat on the track, stretching after a rough session of sprints, thoughts of yesterday’s graduation ceremony came to mind. Specifically, I thought about the verbal tribute paid to the teachers by both the administration and the students.
Many teachers touched my life, and most of them in ways I’ll never realized. I grew up in a town where teachers weren’t only teachers, but also neighbors, fellow worshipers, and friends. And my mom taught English and Special Ed. I knew teachers.
But as I sat on the track and wondered which teacher changed my life the most, the choice became obvious. It had to be the one responsible for my being at the track early on a Sunday morning.
Mr. Herndon taught Government and coached football in Yates Center for one year, my senior year of high school. I think that year, 1984-85, was his first as a teacher. I don’t believe he remained in teaching for long. He didn’t win teacher of the year and I didn’t like him. In fact, I don’t know any student that did. At the end of the year the Board elected not to renew his contract.
I can look back thirty years later and understand what he tried to do, even though it didn’t work. He and I butted heads many, many times.
So how does such a candidate rank at the top of my list?
I was a fast runner as a kid, and did well in track through junior high. I didn’t enjoy running, so after one year of track in high school I decided golf sounded more appealing.
As part of our conditioning, Mr. Herndon made our football team run laps around the practice field until we could complete a mile without stopping. It was unorthodox training for a football team, and one few of us appreciated. But I recognized the benefits.
I attended Neosho County Community College on a baseball scholarship, and as part of my training I decided to run daily before classes. I only ran a mile or two at a time, but something strange occurred. I began to like it.
After two years at NCCC I transferred to Tabor College. My runs increased to three to five miles. And, when it was too cold outside I would run stairs in the administration building. For fun.
There are few things I enjoy doing more than running. I’ve prayed, brainstormed dozens of story ideas, and written poetry, all while running. I never listen to music. I like to think or let my mind wander.
Running is the greatest therapy I know. It has helped me survive some dark periods. During one of the darkest of my life, I trained and ran my first half marathon. At the end of the race I returned to my car and wept.
Completing a half marathon gave me the confidence and focus to pass the CPA exam. A few years later, both accomplishments gave me the ability to write my first novel. I now have five books published. These accumulated successes have given me the drive (and I hope, strength) to turn writing into a career.
My son is also a runner, and a good one. In fact, he’s much better than I’ve ever been, and he’s just getting started. Would he be a runner if I wasn’t? I don’t know.
It may be a stretch, or it may not, but I trace it all back to Mr. Herndon. I’ve tried to find him on Facebook. I would love the opportunity to tell him my story, but I don’t know his first name, so this will probably be the closest I get to thanking him.
Oh behalf of Mr. Herndon, thank you to every teacher reading this. You may never know how you’ve changed a student’s life.