Mrs. Hornaday


Mrs. G. was never good at team sports. Besides her genetic predisposition to teetering, tripping over air and, then, bursting into tears, her desire to please her fellow teammates eclipsed any eagerness to win. She shuffled across the competition continuum in order to secure her spot at the next slumber party. Mrs. G. would chuck the softball way past first to make sure Stephanie Simon was safe or ram the basketball underhanded into Charlie Peters' kidneys to snag the foul for the girls' team. She was a loose cannon, her only strategy to get out alive and well liked. In sixth grade she gave up team sports altogether.

So she was surprised and skeptical her junior year in high school when the cross country coach, Mrs. Hornaday -- a tall, skeletal woman with a dyed black pageboy haircut and a slash of red lipstick across her heavily creased mouth -- approached her about joining the team. Mrs. G. explained she wasn't into team sports but Mrs. Hornaday, frantically rubbing the nap on the left arm of her midnight blue velour track suit, explained when you were running, you were only competing with yourself. Competing with herself, unless it involved plowing through and shrinking the stack of library books on her night stand, sounded uninteresting, pointless to Mrs. G. This, combined with her congenital fear of falling, led her to tell Mrs. Hornaday thank you, really, but no thank you. "I'll see you tomorrow. Practice is at 4:00," Mrs. Hornaday said, unfazed by Mrs. G's polite refusal. "It will look good on your transcript." Mrs. Hornaday, a frail, sickly looking woman who could have been 45 or 65, twitched down the hall like a hyper thyroid without saying goodbye.

Still a pleaser, Mrs. G. showed up the next day. Mrs. Hornaday, a stopwatch in one hand and a cigarette in the other, introduced her to the team and explained the drill, which was to simply to run behind everyone else as fast as she could...after she ate two hamburgers. Each practice, Mrs. Hornaday, a big believer in iron and meat, would show up with a bag of Krystal hamburgers, mini square burgers which tasted like food warming lamps and sweat and insist each runner chow down. By week four of practice, Mrs. G. felt more confident -- she hadn't fallen once -- though she was consistently the last runner in. The minute Mrs. Hornaday saw Mrs. G. clearing the wooded path, she would shout, "That's my girl, Copeland, haul it on in." Mrs. G. would haul it on in only to discover, once again, the large orange thermos of Gatorade empty. Slowly realizing the satisfaction of being less of a pleaser, Mrs. G. would address the injustice of the lack of hydration to her faster, bastarding bastard teammates. "Get over it," Mrs. Hornaday, swallowed up in smoke and Taboo perfume, would say, offering Mrs. G. a swig of her cold coffee. "There's always someone a step or two ahead of you. Just keep going and deal with it."

Mrs. G. dealt with it until she graduated, roused and galvanized by a brittle boned, phlegmy-lunged woman of indeterminate age who she could probably break in half.

You can't predict who is going to move you (or make you move). Watch and listen carefully. Mrs. G. never ran again but she keeps hauling it on in, a step or two behind, and deals with it. The only difference, now she brings her own drink.

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Reader Comments (23)

That was great. Thanks for hauling it on in for us Derfs. We appreciate these glimpses into your past.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter1Les

We had those same burgers, only they were from White Castle. You'd buy them by the sack. Now I'm hungry.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersuburbancorrespondent

Love this. Keep hauling it in.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Snow

Thank you very much for sharing that story. We teacher-types LIVE for this kind of stuff!! State championships and awards assemblies are great but in reality if we can help a few students lead happy and productive lives we feel like we have done our jobs. If they can remember a life less or two (and quote us!) all the better.

I hope all of my students grow up to be like you, Mrs. G.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWendy S.

This would be the exact reason my son is taking track this year. He is not a runner. He isn't competitive. But he has his own water bottle and the desire to try. I respect him for the bravery he is showing. And kiddos to you!

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjean

"There's always someone a step or two ahead of you. Just keep going and deal with it."

I am beyond exhausted, teary and depressed for no reason I can really define (except 100 little ones). I'm gonna just keep going and deal with it. Thank you Mrs. G!

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Ditto what Karen said. Love the story, Mrs. G - thanks. :)

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie O

Bravo always to the last one in! When I was 45 and training for my first and only half marathon (I use "training" loosely), I was once passed by a woman who was walking. WALKING, Derfs. (Race walking, but still. I was running.)

My first race, I was beat by a lady running with a cane.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercheryl

A cigarette smoking running coach? My kinda woman! Great story, Mrs. G.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commentershrink on the couch

Brava, Mrs. G! A post like this makes me wish I had someone like your old coach to make me try new things in high school.

Like Jean's son, mine went out for track this "spring" -- not athletically inclined but getting out there and hauling it on in.

I am happy to keep pace with you. Walk and talk. Lovely story with great depth of meaning. Thanks, m

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermeredith@whynotpottery

Beautiful story. Thanks for hauling it in--and inspiring me to do the same!

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarty

This is beautifully done, and thank you Mrs. G.

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Nice. Thanks.

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternaomi d

I love it. Keep hauling it in.

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermolly

Love this - as a runner (slow), sometimes I question why I keep doing it, as there is always someone "a step or two ahead of " me. Stories like this make me so happy that you got your blogging mojo back.

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermomwhoknits

I love this. Good for you for keeping with it - both then and now.

And Mrs. Hornaday? Oooh, I so wonder what her story is ...

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCha Cha

Love this. I so hope there are still teachers out there who teach these kinds of lessons.

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArli

Again I have to ask when the hell your memoir will come out.

I had a sculpture professor, in college, who sounds a whole lot like Mrs. Hornaday. He didn't make me run, but he did tell me to stop worrying, buck up, and just major in art, always with a cigarette in his mouth. I still think of him often, especially when I'm stressing about trying something new. I'll always be grateful.

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Kohlmann

After eating Krystal burgers, how you ran (or did anything, really) without barfing is a miracle of intestinal fortitude. Great writing, as always.

What a difference a few years make. When I was in High School there were no girls on teams except for a 3 woman swim team and a 4 woman gymnastics team. I was a timer for the men's track team and the men's swim team. Those were the sports roles we played until Title 9 passed the year I graduated.

So hurray that girls now get the benefitof those coaching gems and team experiences!

March 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrightsideSusan

i adore this. beautiful. thank you.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwedje

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