“I will run over you.” Coach Jarvis Scott drives the Texas Tech track van behind our team during practice, nudging our calves with the bumper. That was twenty-one years ago. Now, her former student-athletes (including me and many others who didn’t end up under the van that day) assemble into a Lutheran Church in Lubbock, Texas to honor our mentor and swap stories from the good ole days. Coach Scott is in her sixties now and suffered a stroke in 2003. Even with a cane, I’m guessing she could still out run me on the track. I came to Tech, largely because of Coach Scott, because she appeared to be one of the strongest women I’d seen, and she was an Olympian in my event. Before I made the ten-hour drive to Lubbock, friends asked me, “You’re going where? To do what?”
Jarvis cared about us. Not in the fluffy cuddly bunny way. More like the tough love, scared straight way. She used to say, “I’m not your mama and daddy, but your parents entrusted you to me, and that makes you my responsibility.” She also said, “You may not be a champion athlete, but you will train like one. You will be disciplined like one.” She kept her word. When I’m asked: How did she help you? In what way did she stand up for you? I answer: She didn’t. She gave us advice, but didn’t intervene. For most of us, she was the first person who taught us to fight our own battles. That we’d be subjected to all kinds of challenges in life and would need to grow up and face them with courage. Growing up in the projects of Los Angeles, Coach Scott knew first hand how self-reliance could come in handy.
I went to Tech strong, but left stronger. Our coach cared more about who we became as young women, than how many races we won. In a packed cathedral, we waited for Jarvis to speak, still as women in our forties, waiting for her to inspire us and say the one thing we just might need to hear to be our best.