After nine years with Queens University of Charlotte track and field, Coach Jim Vahrekamp announced his leave. He is anticipated at the University of North Dakota where he will take the helm as head coach for the track and field team. I worked alongside Coach Vahrenkamp for two years, and while I, and the rest of the team, are saddened by his departure, we wish him nothing but the best.
Dear Coach Vahrenkamp,
If I could, I would write a thousand letters with a thousand different beginnings. I think it’s because it’s easier for me to say hello than it is to say goodbye. I’m writing because I want you to know how grateful I am for everything you’ve done for this team as well as everything you’ve done for me. I won’t lie. It was jarring when you announced you were leaving. But I am really happy for you. You’re an amazing coach, and I’ll bet that team is going to get the best coach they’ve ever had.
The other day Niklas Klei my teammate said something that stuck with me about the situation.
“That’s what he does best. He creates an amazing team wherever he goes.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. But I agree with the sentiment. You have this amazing gift where you inspire those around you, where you hold up a mirror to people and make them see what you see in them. Perhaps it’s not so much of reflecting, but rather inspiring.
When I first came to Queens, I was so scared and doubtful of my abilities. I’m sure I don’t have to rehash this, you know this about me. I came from a high school and an environment where I was overlooked. My field hockey coaches just saw me as a track runner, my track coach saw me as an actress, and my theatre coach saw me as an athlete. Not one of them saw me as me. They just brushed me off unless I produced results or helped them, coach.
But not you. You were the first coach to get to know me as a person. I still remember how I was so nervous my first year, I barely spoke a word at practice, but you helped me find my voice.
You were there at almost every track meet, coaching me, inspiring me.
I remember so often I was on my own, but at VMI or JDL, when I needed you, you were there. But your influence reached beyond just your presence, it reached into my soul and planted the seed of growth and strength.
That day that you had to leave at the gas station when you were contact traced, I was clinging to my friend Deus, scared that I wouldn’t be able to vault. I remember sitting frozen in my bus seat, terrified that I couldn’t do it. Later, as I warmed up, I just kept thinking about the hundreds of ways I could mess up until I heard your voice in my head, reminding me what to do.
Your influence steeled my resolve, and as I looked down that runway, none of the negative vines that threatened to choke out that seed existed. I almost PR’ed that day.
I won’t lie, these past few weeks have been hard. Hell, this past year has been hard on me, but I always knew I was safe at your practices.
I always knew that whatever happened outside of the runway couldn’t get to me there, when I was on the track with the pole. I could just vault and exist between the atoms of the air with all of the freedom it gave me. The freedom that you have helped give me. Practice was sometimes the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning, and when the world was crashing down around me back home, the thought of pole vaulting with you and the team kept my spirit aflame.
I’m not good at saying good-byes. I’m even less good at handling change. But one thing that will never change is the impact you’ve had on my life. I know that whenever anyone asks me who had the biggest, most positive impact on me and my development, I’ll proudly say you. Yes, you. You’ve taught me so much in the two years I’ve known you, and even though you’re leaving, I hope that we stay in touch.
I know I’m repeating myself, but that team in North Dakota is the luckiest team in the whole world to have you as their new head coach. I know that you will bring out the best in those kids and help ignite their spark.
I really hope that one day I can inspire as many lives as you have.
So instead of saying goodbye, I’ll just say: thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for inspiring me, for coaching me, for lighting a spark in me to be the best I can be and to live without fear. I mean, all I have to do is trust the process.
Thank you and good luck in North Dakota!