Anthony was my first teacher at GDS, when I was eight years old. I remember how at recess, Anthony would gently encourage my friends and me to go outside and run around... but then would graciously stay in to supervise us as we built paper doll homes instead. In retrospect, I realize he didn't just want us to go out for our own sakes; we were keeping him from precious kid-free time in the school day, time that he needed to prepare for lessons and for the GDS High School running program. Indeed, Anthony talked about running and coaching frequently, and my third grade self always thought the runners sounded crazy: What were these people doing just running all the time, sometimes literally in circles?
Flash forward to high school: I first pegged myself as a theater kid, but my friends Emily Kelin ‘08, Julia Coursey ‘08, and Samy Kumar ‘08 kept talking about this great community on the cross-country team. During winter and spring track, I would walk by team meetings on the way to the library to catch glimpses of my crush (track star Duncan Belew ‘08), and Anthony would warmly wave and encourage me to join the team. I figured I’d give one season of running a try, never thinking that season would last over 15 years.
While I now love to run, I have never been a skilled runner. I was plagued with a different injury each season in high school: hip, knee, ankle... and, of course, my toe, which earned me my GDS running nickname, “Stub-her-toe.” (In truth, I didn’t just stub it – I broke it on the winding metal staircase at cross-country camp.) I continued running at Macalester College, and take pride in the fact that I was the slowest runner in my league who stuck with it and completed every race.
I was forced to stop running for many years due to a serious illness, but the lessons I learned never left me. Most notably, when I was 26, I had a brief yet terribly painful medical procedure during which I found myself singing the same songs in my head that I would sing to myself during a difficult cross-country workout. As I pushed through, I realized I hadn't thought of those songs in close to a decade. When I badly needed inner strength, I dug into the reserves created through my experiences in cross-country under the nurturing and guidance of Anthony. In an email I sent him afterwards, I wrote:
As I listened to this year’s seniors speaking at the cross-country campfire, I was struck by just how many people Anthony has influenced in different yet similar ways. Oliver Satola ‘20 discussed the generational impact of the team, which has been entirely created and maintained by Anthony Belber. He’s the reason nearly 20% of the current High School and even more alumni have participated in this running program and continue to keep coming back. Anthony fosters kindness, community, and tradition. Talia Rodriguez ’20 described that she has been on many teams and was often more skilled at those sports than she is at running. Yet, she has felt more valued by Anthony than by any other coach. That ability to make every runner feel valued is Anthony's true gift, and he has given it generously for over 20 years.
If you had told me in high school that I would end up coming back to GDS to coach cross-country and track, I would have laughed at you. After all, I'm a very slow runner who fell into this sport essentially by accident. On our phenomenal coaching team, there are other coaches who can run with the pace setters at the front of the pack. I feel honored to fill the role of reminding the slower or injured folks that they still matter and have immense value to the team. I feel inspired by those students every day, and feel grateful for the constant reminder of the resilience, grit, and heart of a runner. Now, as a coach, Anthony and the team continue to make me feel welcomed and appreciated.
Whether coaching or working as a therapist, I strive to help people recognize their inner strength and harness it to its fullest potential. In cross-country as in life, we are all ultimately pushing through some challenge, surrounded by our community, running the course with all the inner strength we can muster. And sometimes stubbing our toes.
We hope you have enjoyed the Run Good and Keep Going series. For next week, we have invited coach Anthony Belber to have the last word in the series with his piece, A Grateful Coach. Please let us know your thoughts on this and future alumni series by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many more stories to tell, and we want to hear yours!