Honoring Greatness – He Did the Damn Thing

Our marathon training schedule said we should be doing 20 miles this weekend. But when we learned that Saturday, Sep. 23, 2017 was going to be Coach Alfonzo Jackson’s last coached training with Team in Training, we changed course and joined about 30 current and former TNTers to surprise him.

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Decades of participants, coaches, managers up at the crack of dawn to honor Coach Al.

It takes a special reason for us to get up at 4:30 on a Saturday morning to be out the door by 5:45 and drive up to the Richmond Marina. Today was all about paying respect to an extraordinary individual who has shaped, inspired, and positively impacted so many lives. Coach Al’s legacy as the East Bay Run Coach for TNT may be coming to an end, but the impact that he has had on all of our lives will continue to live on.

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We caught up with long time TNT participants, mentors, captains, coaches, and a former team manager – near and dear to us. As we were reminiscing, we started to reflect on our first encounter with TNT.

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Monica was our marathon team manager for many years
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Honoree Helen and Walk/Hike Coach Carolyn
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The Walk team was scheduled for 20 miles: Jim, Joe, Carolyn, Nancy and Roz

Ron and I were classic, “Off the couch recruits.” We showed up for our first TNT training in February of 2005 at Crissy Field in San Francisco. We were dressed from head to toe in cotton (including our socks!), baggy sweatpants, hooded sweatshirts and carrying two 32 ounce bottles of water – for a 2-4 mile walk. Coach Tom didn’t say anything except that the Gear clinic would be held after the walk at Sports Basement. This is where we quickly learned that we were wearing ALL the wrong things. We walked out with a completely new wardrobe and Sports Basement quickly became our favorite store. We can’t leave there without spending several hundred dollars each time we shop.

Former East Bay Run Coach, Gary, was an experienced runner before he joined TNT. Yet, he too has funny stories about what he wore back when he first joined TNT including short shorts. We hear they’re making a comeback so you may still have the chance to get in a few more miles with them!

East Bay Run and Walk Coach Tim is celebrating 20 years with TNT this year! We’re in awe. Tim remembers clearly his first all Bay TNT kickoff event that was attended by more than 500 loudly cheering participants. His first training was around Lake Merced. By the end of their first season (one of his fondest seasons) the Team had bonded together so closely around the cause that they pitched in to fly their honoree and her Dad to Vancouver to be there to cheer on the team at their event. Joining TNT has always been so much more than training for and completing an endurance event. It draws people together who want to make a difference in other people’s lives. As Roz put it today, “TNTers are the nicest people!”

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Tim was Nancy’s mentor. Nancy was Ron’s mentor. Ron was Susan’s mentor. That makes Tim Susan’s ‘great-grand-mentor’. (He hates that term)

Then there is Coach Al who has made a difference in every life he’s ever touched. He’s even coached TNTers to become Boston qualifiers; some qualified after completing their first marathon! But for Coach Al it’s always been about the mission of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to help find a cure for blood cancer. It’s evident any time he is near an honoree who always gets a big hug. Every honoree is made to feel special
around him.

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His participants aren’t just team members, we are his family members and we all feel loved by Coach Al. He calls us his sons and daughters (with grandsons and granddaughters who show up to trainings from time to time too.) Except for Nancy who tells Coach Al, “You’re just a baby!” A decade older than Al, Nancy is entitled
to give Al grief. Of course, Al responds, “I want to be like Nancy when I grow up!” We ALL want to be like Nancy when we grow up. Who else do you know who is in their 80’s and still racing nearly every weekend? She often wins her age group, even when she’s not the only one in her age group!

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A training with Coach Al wouldn’t be complete without a teaching moment. The San Francisco Giants race was his last event as a TNT coach. In order to qualify as a certified coach, he had to refresh his CPR certification two months earlier and learned from the best instructor he’d ever had. Coach Al was patrolling the race course looking for people who were struggling toward the end of the race. He saw a woman who was definitely
struggling. She passed him and then moments later he heard a thud. He spun around and dropped to his knees and immediately started administering CPR. He knew he wasn’t pressing hard enough to get the blood circulating when her lips turned blue. He advised us not to be afraid of breaking someone’s ribs if it meant saving their life. He stayed with her until she started breathing again. In all his years of coaching, he was humbled by the fact that on that special day, he was in the right place at the right time to help save that
woman’s life. What a way to go out Coach Al!

People come and go in our lives. Each one has the potential to change us for the better. We are honored to have had the opportunity to share our TNT experience with one of the greatest, if not the greatest, coach of all time. Coach Al, we feel your love and want you to know how much you are loved in return.

~//~

Coach Al and his wife “Mama Lisa” Felder were inducted into the Black Marathoners Hall of Fame in 2015. Brian Kinion, one of Coach’s long-time training captains, estimated that over Coach’s 20 years with TNT, his trainees have raised over $8 million in the fight against blood cancers. Some of his many inspirational mantras include “Your health is your wealth”, “It’s Mind over Matter – if you don’t MIND, it doesn’t MATTER,” “No WIMPS” (because you can’t be a wimp and finish a half or full marathon) and of course his send off cheer:

“Let’s do the damn thing”

To learn more about Team in Training go to http://www.teamintraining.org

 

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