If you know me & the team I have created and coach, I am heavily invested in my athletes. I weather their ups and downs right along with them. Sometimes it’s hard to carry that weight, but the highs that come along with it are THE BEST. I could coach more at a distance, but having each of my athletes as “family” is well… just too darn fun not to :).
Except… I hadn’t prepared myself for this phone call. This “down”.
I coached Andrew Howard (link to his TNC athlete page) for almost 2 years, although he has recently been on a break from TNC. His husband messaged me late on a Friday to call him. Odd, I thought. I take calls at all hours, all days of the week – but it’s fairly unusual for a Friday night conversation.
“I wanted you to hear from me right away,” Andrew’s husband began. “Andrew took his own life today.”
Like I said, I had the privilege to coach Mr. Howard for nearly two years. In 2014, when he started, we smashed 3 of his PRs – even some of those from his collegiate XC running days at Gustavus. In 2015, he decided that wasn’t enough and went on to RESET every single one of those, as well as set new PRs at EVERY SINGLE DISTANCE HE RACED. He refused to race the 10k even though his PR now stuck out like a sore thumb. He said that race distance was dumb and hurt in too awkward of a way. Ha! So, he PR’d in every distance, sans 10k.
|My last run with Andrew, around Christmas, 2015.
He was SO coachable, and so determined! In 2014 he logged ~2400 miles (might have been a bigger pick-up when he started with TNC!), and 2015 saw 3,055. Wow.
|His 2015 miles. Impressive.
Before one of his recent track workouts, he texted a picture of a TX downpour that said, “Tornado Warning! I might not hit my paces, btw”
|Doesn’t this scream, “Let’s go out for a track workout! Alone!”
He then proceeded to nail the workout. Post workout text: “2:50, 2:50, 2:51, 2:51, 2:52, 2:52, 2:52. With a near-flood stage creek raging next to me and 15-25 mph winds. That’s a win!”
Another fun memory: I wasn’t able to get him to give up his mimosas after a long run. He said he could probably find some research that showed that 2-3 of those drinks were the best possible way to refuel. I saved him the trouble of finding research, because he would have!, and gave up on the man’s refueling strategies.
Even his husband didn’t know the extent of Andrew’s mental illness battle, so I know I can’t blame myself for not seeing anything in him.
The last text conversation we had was about the new indoor marathon world record that had been set. He asked me if my old bones still had a 2:44 in me. [Originally he was going to pace me through 1/2 way, along with Jeff, to the record] I told him I didn’t know, and I think he was happy to know he might be off the hook for pacing duties.
The one thing Andrew wanted to accomplish under me was a sub-3:05 marathon finish. His BQ. I wish, more than anything, I could have gifted that to him. It would have meant SO much to this man (PR was 3:11). I tear up as I write this.
|He was just a little competitive 🙂
I think another reason his suicide has affected me so much is that I was in the exact same place a year ago. I was just lucky enough to have people near me the two times I wanted to attempt ending my life. I could have been Andrew. I am so thankful for those family & friends around me that saved me.
I will miss you SO much, Andrew. I will also try harder than ever before to see if I can prevent even one more unnecessary struggle, isolation, or death by DEFEATING THE STIGMA around mental health illness. Andrew didn’t talk about any of this – to anyone – because he had so much shame of the disease. It’s not shameful at all! It’s just what you’ve been given – you can then try to do the best with it (and everything else you’ve been given in life) that you can. Medications, therapy, support groups, medical professionals – they are there to help someone manage their disease. It really is no different from cancer or any other disease.
If you are suffering from a mental illness and don’t feel like you can talk to anyone – please, please feel like you can reach out to me at anytime. I sincerely mean that. There is no shame.
So – with that peppy post – I ask that anyone close to Andrew: current TNC athletes, former teammates, Rochester family & friends, acquaintances: or anyone that has been close to someone struggling with a mental illness – Come out to the Defeat the Stigma trail 5k or 10k run this weekend with Nathan and me. Show your support for mental health awareness. It’s in Farmington, MN, starting at 8am. Plus there are pancakes afterwards!!
Heck, I hope one of us takes a big digger in honor of Andrew to really make him proud (ahem, Nathan, can you take the fall? I don’t want to get hurt :)) . For those of you that knew Andrew, he was an extremely generous donor to the biff pot. That man knew how to FALL 🙂
To help you to be able to get to the race, I have TWO FREE ENTRIES to give away to the race in honor of Andrew! Please comment below for an entry: share a story you have about a struggle or success you’ve had, or you’ve witnessed, dealing with mental health.
Let’s beat this! Defeat the Stigma!