A Fortuitous Fall · 20 June 2010

Back in the middle of the track season, we were at an invitational meet. There were schools from around the region gathered together in Pasco at “The largest one day track meet west of the Mississippi.” While we were there, I fell and scraped my knees. Our athletes marveled that I was excited to tell the story of my fall over and over.

Being a boy, I naturally like to tell about bumps, bruises, and scars that I have gotten. I have said before that they are like boy merit badges (see Scrapes, Scabs, and Scars). Even in my mid-forties, I remember where I earned most of my scars. Especially, the new ones. So getting excited and regaling a story of a still bloody scrape on my legs is the norm rather than an oddity.

Perhaps the oddity and the reason why our athletes thought it weird that I was telling the story was that I was telling of my clumsiness. After all, most boys do not want to admit to weakness of any sort. But I tend to get a lot of mileage from telling of my own foibles and follies, so telling of my being a klutz is not out of the ordinary. As a matter of fact, it seems to be typical.

As most of my stories go, the way I fell and scraped my legs was not that special. The ramps going into the stands had an angular flare at the bottom which jutted out from the asphalt around them, but I should have been aware. And I would have been, except that I was in a hurry to get back to our tent up at the top of the stadium. At any rate, I was not paying attention to where I was going. If I had not been trotting or had been paying attention to where I was going rather than looking up toward our spot, I would have merely stumbled on the ramp edge. Since I was both trotting along and not paying any attention to where I was going, I fell hard. Being somewhat athletic (albeit clumsy), I rolled out of the fall without too much damage to my body. Or ego. (If I had been with anybody I knew, I would have done a gymnastics finishing move of raising my arms for the perfect landing or at least said, “Ta da.”) But that was just the beginning of the story.

Even though I did not finish my fall with a flourish, it would have been appropriate if I had. For the face I saw was that of a teacher and coach from my alma mater. He coached volleyball and gymnastics way back when and he would have appreciated my finish. Instead of answering his question of whether I was okay, I immediately said, “I know you!” We chatted for a few minutes to catch up on almost thirty years and then I was off again to be with our team. It was a great chance meeting. But the story still does not end there.

The reason that I remembered this particular coach was not because I was a volleyball player or gymnast. The reason I remembered him was because he was a man of integrity in a profession I did not believe had many people of strong character. It was something that I had always wanted to tell him. So after I got home from the track meet, I wrote this old coach to tell him I appreciated his character. I appreciated the fact that he stood up for what he believed even though he lost his job for it.

What this coach of integrity had done was simple. He had followed his principles and values. Some of his athletes had violated the athletic code and got kicked off the team right before the state tournament. It was a good team with a shot at the title, but even though the coach knew the team’s chances would be diminished without those athletes, he still stood his ground. I remembered his courage and decisiveness thirty years later. I only wished that I had told him that in person on the day of the fall instead of in an email.

While the coach and I were both more involved with the events of the day in Pasco for me to really chat about what happened thirty years in the past, falling down right in front of a man I admired was fortuitous. We got to reconnect and I at least emailed him my respect and admiration.

I am sure that I will be falling down and scraping my knees again. Hopefully, those falls and scrapes will have good stories to them too. But I doubt I will meet many men with more character than the old coach who I saw at the end of my fortuitous fall.

© 2010 Michael T. Miyoshi

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