The Coach: Nino Fennoy
Best Advice: Make a commitment, and stick with it.
Nino Fennoy was my track and field coach from elementary school through high school, but it was while I was in college that he taught me some wisdom for the ages. I was on scholarship at UCLA, this 17-year-old girl from East St. Louis, Illinois. I became very homesick my freshman year.
But I didn’t want my mother, Mary, who was my best friend, to know. So I just kept it all to myself. And then I unexpectedly received a call telling me to come home. Mom had become extremely ill. I raced home, and she quickly lapsed into a coma from a bacterial infection and passed away.
Those were some very dark days.
I started having some technical issues with my favorite event, the long jump. Then I was diagnosed with asthma, a tough condition for a track and field athlete. I feared that my athletic career was in jeopardy — it seemed like the end of the world to me.
When I called and told all of this to Coach Fennoy, he did not say, “Don’t quit.” But he did stress that I went to school for an education, too, that it wasn’t just about sports. I was thinking one-dimensionally; he saw the bigger picture. I quickly resolved the issues with my long jump. I was on my way.
Coach gave me a profound lesson: that sometimes things are not going to go the way you want. Had I given up at that point, I always would’ve taken the easy way out. But once you have obligated yourself to do something, see it through. In the end, Coach Fennoy taught his struggling young track and field star not to flee from difficulties in life but to sprint toward them.