Earning Smiles

What’s the worth in a smile? I think that while a smile is a timeless display of satisfaction and/or joy, the true value of a smile is in the circumstances in which it was given and the person that gave it…. Don’t we all have that person in our lives? Who I’m talking about is that person that is hard to impress because he or she knows exactly what you’re capable of, and wants more than anything for you to succeed. And for this reason, a smile drawn from them by an achievement you’ve made is scarce, for they won’t settle with anything other than your potential. They are the people whom you want to impress more than any other. If they haven’t became one already, they nearly are, in many ways, a measure of success in themselves.

Over the course of the past week, my English class watched Rocky. It was a good movie, inspirational, and nearly as great as I was told that it was. More important to this post, however, is Rocky’s trainer: Mickey. An old man with a wrinkly, reddened face busted up by years of fighting, with a sometimes erratic temper, he becomes an unlikely mentor to Rocky as the fight for the world championship with Apollo Creed approaches. Not only does Mickey offer Rocky the first real advice that he’s received that could be potentially useful in fighting a world class boxer, and raise the level of Rocky’s fighting to that necessary for such a fight, but one can only marvel at his honesty. Most frequently, this honesty is displayed in brutal dialogue: Rock, “You know, I been coming here for six years and for six years you been sticking it to me. I wanna know how come.” Mickey, “You don’t wanna know.” Rocky, “Yeah, I wanna know.” Mickey, “You wanna know?” Rocky,”I wanna know!” Mickey, “Okay, I’ll tell ya! Because you had the talent to become a good fighter! And instead of that you became a leg-breaker for some cheap, second-rate loan shark!” Rocky, “It’s a living.” Mickey, “It’s a waste of life!”

It may seem quite harsh of Mickey, especially considering how at this point in the movie, Mickey hasn’t became or even talked about being Rocky’s coach. Yet, despite the brutality, as the movie progresses, the intentions of Mickey become clearer: to make Rocky be the absolute best he can. It doesn’t matter necessarily if Rocky wins the fight, all that matters is walking away with the knowledge that he couldn’t have done any better. And as Rocky walks away from the championship with that knowledge, I’m confident that the impression he made (or perhaps the point he proved) to his coach was a great factor in his satisfaction.

That person, that measure of success in my life, is my cross country coach, Martin. Don’t worry, he’s less brutal than Mickey. Just a bit. He’s served my team in an uncountable number of ways, all from the moment he filled out the paperwork entitling him Head Distance Running Coach at Fountain Valley High School. And what he’s done with the program is nearly beyond comprehension. He took us from a contender in league to us sweeping league on all levels- two years in a row. The varsity team has won the last three (or is it now four?) league titles in a row as well. There are seniors in track that in all their careers, since they were freshmen, have never lost a duel meet. Not one. That’s just Martin the coach’s genius acting itself off on the field of competition.

What causes that, and what is the ultimate driving force behind that success, is Martin the person. And man, if I had to go through everything about Martin in this aspect we’d be here for hours. I’m confident about that too, because you’d still be reading for that long; he is one of the most interesting people I have yet to meet. So I’ll start out with the quality I mentioned in an earlier paragraph: honesty. Not only does Martin possess this quality, but it is one of the reasons why he is such an effective coach and motivator. Martin will never lie to you as you cross the finish line of any race, workout, or run. Never will he absent-mindfully tell you, “Good job” upon finishing, a mistake he’s told me that his former coaches have made. And because he does this, receiving a seemingly simple, “Good job” from him is transformed, for it does not come often. If you get a compliment, a smile, a nod in your direction, a high five, a wink, anything positive from him, you better put your chin up, because you can feel proud that yes!- you did do a good job, and did what you are capable of.

And let me tell you, his smile is addicting and infectious. In room of conversation, it brightens the mood of all around him. In competition, it’s not only that, but it also carries a certain completion with it. Perhaps to an athlete’s soul? You have to experience it to know what I’m talking about, believe me on that one. And what was it I said before? It’s addicting. That smile, that recognition, that pride, are all so incredibly addicting. My teammates and I go into races with both goals for ourselves and for the team, but all know that if we can just run well enough to get Martin to smile, it’s a day well done. It’s a mutual understanding…. Not that it’s going to be easy. But that it, his wonderful smile, is going to be enough.

Martin, thank you from the bottom of my heart for absolutely everything. Now that you’re done with coaching, (although I wish you would stay), I sincerely hope that whatever you do next in life is fit for the amazing person that you are. I will never forget the time and experience I had training with you.

Thanks for reading,


 PS- The featured image is a photo I shot as Martin was presented by my team his Coach’s gift, at what was his last Fountain Valley track banquet.



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