I always associate the first blooming flowers of Spring with the start of track season. Phil lived for track season in the same way some people live for football season. He attended every live track meet within driving distance of our house(mind you this takes all day), watched professional meets on TV, knew the names and times of world record holders, and could list the types of events and the order in which they would be run in any given track meet. He was also a coach for our community track club, and was set to begin his tenth year of coaching the summer he died.
The track kids called Phil "Coach Powerbar," because he ran faster than most of them and even the ones he couldn't beat, he could push. If he was on the track behind them, they knew not to slow down if they didn't want to be passed. To see him run was to watch grace in motion. Partly because he was technically good, but mostly because he absolutely loved to run.
When Phil and I were planning our wedding we worked around the running club's meet schedule. We were married on June 16, 2000 because that was the only free weekend between the regular track season and the start of post season competition. We spent half of our honeymoon at a national championship track meet, and I can guarantee you we talked about track a good portion of our drive up the coast to our vacation destination.
So when the flowers bloom and the track at our local high school begins to fill with runners, I always feel a bit melancholy. I know the big red practice oval is missing a very special person, and I can feel his absence every time I drive by the back gate of the school. Phil lit up the faces of every kid he coached. He cared about their grades, and their families, and whether or not they ate lunch. He pushed them to give their best effort every single practice, and didn't measure success by whether or not each kid won his or her race. He told jokes, ran backwards on the track, and always wore a kids running jersey instead of a coach's polo shirt. His runners thrived because they wanted to make him proud. And he bragged about them for days, weeks, and months after every season ended.
Phil changed the lives of the kids he coached because each one genuinely mattered to him. Every track season that goes by without Coach Powerbar leading a huge pack of kids around a 400 metre circle reminds me that the world is just not the same without Phil in it.
I hope they have an extended track season in heaven honey, and run a really fast 400 for me.