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Coach Spotlight - Michelle and Laura

August 15, 2014 by Spotlight

Name: Michelle Brennan and Laura Smelas
Region: Central New Jersey
Team: Hopewell
Seasons Coached: 4


Why do you coach Let Me Run?

We were so grateful to find an existing running program for boys that empowers and encourages them to become the best version of themselves and to lead a healthy and active life. Coaching LMR allows us to integrate our love of running, our commitment to volunteering in our community, and our belief that boys in our society need positive outlets and support systems to encourage them to be comfortable with themselves. We want all boys to know that there are endless possibilities in the world and that there is a place for everybody!


What would you tell parents about Let Me Run?

Parents need to know that Let Me Run is so much more than just a running program and isn't limited to elite athletes. Boys of all shapes, sizes, and abilities are welcomed and encouraged to become part of a LMR team. One of the main focuses of LMR, which sets it apart from other running programs, is the positive atmosphere where all of the boys are accepted. Of course, boys will learn the many benefits of physical activity, while enjoying the simplicity of running; however, and more importantly, boys will discover their physical bodies are but one part of the equation. At LMR boys learn to be accountable to themselves and to their teammates and that the seemingly little choices they make in their day-to-day lives will determine their character. In addition, these boys will learn how to be good friends/teammates and that expressing their feelings/emotions are the building blocks of developing healthy relationships throughout their lives. The lesson part of the program highlights these choices and allows the boys to reflect on these choices in a safe and affirming environment.


What’s the most rewarding part of coaching?

The most rewarding part of coaching is seeing the boys’ progress throughout the season and even from season to season. Yes, sometimes we do see the improvement in their running ability, which is just super, but we also observe the growth in their confidence or maturity. We had one LMR boy who never spoke for the first season, not in a disrespectful way but he was by nature a pensive soul. During his second LMR season, he became the most vocal, supportive teammate and, as he was a speedy one, he would be the official cheerer and greeter as the others came in after the run. Seeing that type of development makes our hearts so very happy!


What’s the most challenging part of coaching?

The most challenging part of coaching is covering all the material in the lesson. While it's wonderful that there is plenty to choose from and no idle time, some days we do not get to everything planned. With practice we’ve learned that it’s more important to finish up an activity or discussion so that all of the boys have spoken, than it is to rush through so that we can simply check it off the list. We’ve definitely learned to go with the flow of the day and the mood of the team!


What have you learned from your runners?

We have learned so very much from Let Me Run and our Hopewell boys. Even though we are both runners of different abilities, our running has improved in that we are both more tenacious and focused, but also appreciate and enjoy running more than before. At the same time, teaching many of these lessons forces us to revisit issues and be more thoughtful in our daily lives about the choices we make. Whether it’s gossiping, making better choices about sugar, or setting goals, our lives have improved because we are coaching LMR.


What would you tell a boy who is unsure about joining Let Me Run?

If we were talking to a boy who is on the fence about joining LMR, we would say that LMR is unlike any other team you’ve ever been a member of in your life! By joining LMR, you will become part of a group that will help you become a better person along with a better runner. More importantly, you will not be judged based on your running ability, but on your commitment and dedication to your own personal goal. It doesn’t mean you won’t work hard and sweat because we promise you that will happen! At the same time, you will have the opportunity to become teammates with boys in your school or even your grade that you may not know. We can promise that being a Let Me Run boy means that you will grow in mind, body, and spirit.    

Tell us about the biggest transformation you’ve seen in a runner.

The biggest transformation we have seen in a runner happened just last season. Our runner had some severe physical limitations as well as some social challenges. At the beginning of each LMR session he would come out of school and take off his back brace. He wouldn’t really chat with the other boys and waited at the fringes of the group. When he ran at the start of the season, he was positive and would try his best. By the middle of the season, his frustration with running became an issue and we feared he would quit. However, after conferring with his mom, he stuck with it, and with the help of some music, he made his way around the loops in the park. One of our greatest LMR moments was the end of the 5k in the spring. Our boy was really struggling during the race. He was just having one of those days. As the rest of the LMR boys waited at the finish for him to come into view, one of our guys offered to go back and look for him. Soon enough the ENTIRE TEAM made its way back to find him and escorted him back while yelling supporting words and encouraging him throughout. There were many tears in the eyes of parents and coaches watching this boy have this incredible, life-changing moment.


How do you keep your team motivated?

We keep our team motivated by changing things up. We are so lucky to have lots of wonderful open space in our area, which we use for different running routes.  By the time the boys get to the 5k start, they’ve run up and down little and big hills, on gravel, on hard pack trails and on the sidewalk, on grass, and out in the wide open and under the canopy of trees. They are ready for anything, and they LOVE the variety after sitting in school all day. It does take a little planning, but it’s really worth it.


Through coaching Let Me Run, what transformations have you seen in yourself?

When we signed up to coach LMR, it was with the intention of helping these boys find their way in this crazy world of ours. Of course, what we didn’t realize was that our own lives would be transformed as well.

Michelle: Various areas of my life have changed after becoming a LMR coach — both running and non-running related. As a runner, I've learned the great importance of taking care of your body before and after a run and how it can not only prevent injuries, but also improve your running performance. But coaching has also touched my personal life. I believe I've become a better mother, becoming very conscious of the "boy code" that is present in everyday life and doing whatever I can to encourage my sons (and daughter) to express their emotions and be honest with themselves. Many of the "words to live by" phrases are repeated in our household, as well as the main objectives of various lessons.

Laura: LMR has certainly helped me become a better runner, and by better I don’t mean faster! Instead I set goals that work for me and just stay focused on them no matter what anyone else is doing from my very fast running group. Certainly, I am a better friend and focus on encouraging and supporting them without judgment. Lastly, I am always struck by the charge in the LMR credo to “push to be fit in body, mind, and spirit.” Getting my mind on the same page as my body and spirit has been a challenge. The lesson on garbage thoughts always forces me to do some serious soul searching, and I’ve grown as a result.

Tags: Coach, Hopewell, Running


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