Aging distance runners will try any trick in the book in an attempt to hold onto speed and strength as the golden years start to catch up to them. It’s a futile attempt to dodge that relentless nemesis known as Father Time.
We can resort to lifting weights, doing yoga, soaking the old bones in the Hot Springs, running more hills, or going to the track to run intervals, which is something I hardly ever do.
All of these options are of minuscule help in the race against the sunset. But if the only alternative is quitting, well, that’s not going to be in the cards.
So on a picture-perfect fall afternoon in late October, I found myself shuffling in a counter-clockwise circle on the cushy, new red surface at the Glenwood Springs High School track.
After a slow mile, I decided to take a seat on the grass by the visitor’s bleachers and soak up some Indian summer sun. Though my plan was to eventually get up and run more laps, I continued to sit because my thoughts had traveled away from running, and back to a time that had me suddenly smiling. All of this because of three words I had noticed at the bottom of the stadium scoreboard.
Stubler Memorial Field.
I have to admit that as I reflected on the days spent with Nick Stubler, my high school P.E. teacher and freshman basketball coach, there were a few tears of joy mixed in with the smile.
I wondered, as I looked across the way to the section of the west bleachers where the Demon students sit under the Friday night lights, how many of them would know the story of the man who shaped the lives of generations who passed through the halls of Glenwood High for more than 30 years.
It sure is funny how, in 2013, I appreciate how much Nick Stubler did for me and all the things that he taught me. I shake my head, though, when I remember the boy from 1976 who constantly complained about all the things coach Stubler made us do in P.E. class and at basketball practice.
I thought we ran too much and did too many calisthenics. He constantly told us to work hard, be a good sport and support others, regardless of how good or bad they were at the activities we were doing.
In basketball, coach Stubler would drill us over and over again until we had mastered the fundamentals of the game. Defense was always a big part of practice, and the only offense we ever ran was the weave. This did not suit my behind-the-back pass, between-the-legs dribble style.
You knew coach Stubler was a bit riled up when his shoulders hunched and his eyebrows arched. I could often get him to take this posture when I flipped one of my fancy passes or took an ill-advised jumper from long range.
“Vidak, we don’t need that fancy stuff out here, boy!”
Coach Stubler must have said that to me a hundred times that freshman year of mine when I truly believed I was the second coming of Pistol Pete Maravich.
I wasn’t Pistol Pete, and coach knew it. So he sent me off running around the gym as my punishment in hopes that I would someday execute the fundamentals of the game and be ready for a spot on the varsity.
I eventually did earn a spot on the Demon varsity, and it was largely due to the things Nick Stubler taught me and the discipline to practice hard that he and Bob Chavez instilled in me.
One of my fondest memories of Coach Stubler came at the end of the state championship basketball game in 1979 when we handily dispatched a talented group of Denver Christian cagers.
As I was coming off the court for the last time, I got the usual bear hug from coach Chavez. I then headed to the end of the bench where coach Don Miller and Nick Stubler always sat. Coach Miller shook my hand, and then I looked down at coach Stubler, who remained seated. Always a man of very few words, coach Stubler just nodded his head in approval of my play as he gave me a big smile. I noticed there were tears in his eyes.
I will never forget that moment in time.
As my daydreaming afternoon was approaching its end, and I slowly emerged from my pleasant journey from the past, I realized there was one more thing I had to do before I left the track that day in October. It was in honor of Coach Stubler.
In freshman P.E., Nick Stubler would always make us run a lap around the track at the start of class. Each day, when I got behind the bleachers, out of Coach’s sight, I would stop running and walk in defiance of what I thought then was a harsh ritual.
Coach knew what I was doing, but there were others who joined me in a little group protest, so he never seemed to get too mad. He would just smile at us and shake his head as we came huffing and puffing down the homestretch acting like we were totally fatigued. He knew we would play hard in the day’s games, so he never got upset at our little shenanigan.
So I started my final jog of the day, the same direction I had been going in earlier. The same direction I ran in Nick Stubler’s P.E. class in 1976.
When I got behind the bleachers, I looked over to where coach used to sit as he was waiting for us to finish, and I began my walk.
I looked up at the mountains, the sun and the sky, and I wondered how so many years could pass so quickly. I smiled again at my memories of Nick Stubler. I just know that somewhere, somehow, he was watching his young friend walk the length of those bleachers and smiling too.
Thanks for everything, coach.
Mike Vidakovich is a freelance writer from Glenwood Springs. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.