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Lessons in Running, Lessons in Life – One Coach’s Legacy

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If you’re standing at the finish line of the Konawaena High School track and you look in the grass, you might see a faint trace of ashes scattered above the “Home of the Wildcats” banner. Patrick Stover scattered those ashes on a particularly drizzly afternoon this past March, just before track practice. They are some of the ashes of a man who spent many a spring day in the very spot where his ashes rest, coaching the Konawaena track team on Hawaii Island. Patrick was one of Coach Kenneth E. Foreman’s student-athletes almost 15 years ago. Today Patrick is the long-distance coach for his own Konawaena runners, and he’s determined to pass on the lessons he learned from Coach Ken to these students, both on and off the track.

“We lost a great man and a great coach. But Coach Ken lives on through each and every one of us whose lives he touched,” says Patrick. “I can only hope I will be able to teach my student-athletes as much as this man has taught me.”

Time has passed and athletes have moved on from running, and even moved off the island. But for the runners he coached, Ken Foreman will always be at the finish line of that green high school track in Kealakekua, HI, cheering them on. 

If you have ever had a coach that impacted your life, you probably have a lot of great memories of the training and racing moments you shared. If you’re fortunate enough, those memories are extra potent because of the lessons associated with these memories. 

Denise Foreman, Patrick Stover, and Sara Stover, spreading Coach’s ashes at the Konawaena track in Hawaii. Patrick wears Coach Ken’s Olympic jacket from 1988, which is also the year Patrick was born.

Coach Ken was an elite, world-record holding athlete, outstanding professor, teacher, and coach. But he was much more than his accomplishments. Coach always asked his athletes to REACH, an acronym that stood for “Risk, Expect, Act, Choose, Hustle.”

These five words were the source of a lifetime of lessons for athletes of all ages and abilities. And Coach Ken’s life was spent being a living example of how to REACH.

RISK – Taking a Chance on Women in Sports

At a time when women were far from being viewed or treated as equal to men in sport, Coach Ken recognized the abilities and talents of female athletes, and he took a risk. Coach worked to develop his female athletes into national and international-caliber competitors. 

He was a pioneer in women’s cross country and track, establishing successful programs at Seattle Pacific University, where his coaching career began. By taking a risk on female athletes well before other coaches and college programs dared to, he opened the door for women to have the same opportunities, and yes, even take the same risks, as his male athletes.

“Coach Ken was in my life since being a freshman at Seattle Pacific,” says Olympic athlete Doris Brown Heritage. “I was just back from missing the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and I had no previous training, as girls didn’t have school or club opportunities in those days. So when Coach Ken took it upon himself to establish the Falcon Track Club with the approval of Seattle Pacific, women suddenly had new sports opportunities they hadn’t known before!”

“Coach Ken could materialize opportunities of amazing proportions with a roll of adhesive tape and a stopwatch,” says Doris Brown Heritage, pictured here with Coach.

Ken Foreman coached everyone from small-town high school athletes to running superstars, imparting his wisdom no matter who he trained. Over the years, he not only coached Doris, an Olympian, and five-time Women’s World Cross Country Champion, but also former Seattle Pacific athletes and Olympians Lorna Griffin, Pam Spencer, and Sherron Walker, along with Kelly Blair Labounty, and his wife Denise Anderson Foreman.

“Coach was never concerned about what he didn’t have or what didn’t exist,” Doris points out. “By the grace of God, he could fix anything and materialize opportunities of amazing proportions with a roll of adhesive tape and a stopwatch.”

Through the years, Coach Ken and other like-minded individuals found a way to materialize the same opportunities for women in sport as for men and proved that women have a right to share in the philosophy that athletics is a microcosm of life.

EXPECT – You Can Only Get What You Expect

Coach Ken guided his athletes in the practice of learning that you can only get what you expect, and you must fearlessly go after that which you expect.

“His lessons challenged us to be fearless and seize every opportunity possible, whether that be in a race, or in life,” says Konawaena alumnus Chelsea Mckenzie. “Because of his guidance and lessons, I have experienced countries and cultures around the world that I had never dreamed about (or even heard of) as a Konawaena student!”

Photo of Coach Ken and his runners: SPU Falcons News. December 4, 2009.

Doris too credits Coach Ken’s support and example for leading her into unknown territory:  Running in men’s races, starting girls track and cross country teams where she taught, and not giving up racing when school authorities demanded she quit because she was going where few female athletes dared to go before.

“I can tell you what it was like to be an Olympic Athlete, marching into the Olympic Stadium and seeing our flag raised, hearing the U.S. National Anthem, being surrounded by the world’s best athletes,” Doris recalls. “Running can take us to many new places in the world and inside ourselves.”

Expecting that something is likely to occur, in a race or in ourselves, is only possible once we believe that we can make it so.

“Kenneth E. Foreman was my coach, and when I run I can still feel his presence coaching,” Patrick wrote after hearing that Coach Ken had passed away in December. “He helped instill qualities in my running and in life that I still carry with me today. He did the greatest thing anyone could do for another: He believed in me, and he also taught me to believe in myself.” 

Self-belief is a seed often planted by those who believe in us before we can fathom expecting much from ourselves. Such is the gift that Coach Ken bestowed upon his athletes. 

ACT – Adventure Waits on the Other Side of Action

Coach Ken not only gave his athletes the courage to believe in themselves by seeing their potential, and to take risks in their own athletic performances, but he also trained them to act strategically on those expectations. 

Ken’s close friend and partner in teaching at Antioch University, Cliff McCrath, learned first-hand how small, purposeful actions can make big differences.

“One rainy afternoon on what is now Foreman Track, I ambled out to see whether one of my soccer players was putting in his daily training regime. Ken was over by Nickerson St. putting Kelly Blair Labounty through some practice takeoffs for the long jump,” Cliff says.  “I watched in silence as he studied her repeated staging, run-ups, and takeoffs. After numerous repetitions, she sidled over to him for his critique and he quietly said, ‘Your thigh has to be parallel to the ground once you vault from your run-up before your launch.’  In all my 47 years of coaching, I never had provided such finite nuances in training an athlete!” 

Taking action can be as subtle as making minor adjustments to your running form or as dramatic as reaching far beyond your comfort zone. Whatever the case, the growth and adventures on the other side of action are worth taking that first step… and then perfecting it! 

Photo: Seattle Times. December 23, 2018.
CHOOSE – Never Choose the Easy Road

Coach Ken lived much of his life as a teacher and coach at Seattle Pacific, influencing countless students and training multiple world-class athletes. In 1999, Coach Ken moved to his beloved Kona, HI and turned his focus to inspiring high-school athletes by coaching track and field, as well as cross-country in the fall.

“Coach never gave us a simple running lesson. His lessons were always about life as well, even if we didn’t recognize it at the time,” Chelsea says.  “I remember him once telling me before a track meet to never run a race in a way that we will ‘should’ ourselves afterward. ‘I should have run harder’ or ‘I should have passed her while I had the chance’ are examples of this.” 

Coach Ken was a standout athlete himself, competing as a gymnast, and a track and field thrower as well, at the University of Southern California. If he had any “should” have moments as an athlete, he learned from them early on and went on to secure an NCAA record on the 25-foot rope climb, which was a men’s gymnastics event in those days. Coach also won two national championships before he graduated as a college All-American from USC in 1949.

“Through his life, we learned to choose to listen to the right voice and chase our dreams,” says Doris, explaining how sport offers the opportunity to experience the difference between good and great, existence and excellence, reward and routine.

Coach Ken enlisted with the Coast Guard after World War II broke out and served in the Pacific theater. He later served as a seasonal ranger at Mt. Rainier. Additionally, Coach was inducted into numerous halls of fame and was named USA Olympic Coach not once, but twice. He exemplified the difference between good and great! 

“To Coach, being average was unacceptable. And this was a standard that he encouraged in all of his athletes,” Chelsea explains. “Thanks to his lessons, his coaching, and his mentorship, I can honestly say that to this day, I have no real ‘shoulds’ in my life.”

This simple lesson has accompanied runners like Chelsea throughout her life, challenging her to truly consider her opportunities and options, and never choose the easy road, lest in the end she might ‘should’ herself. Such is the kind of impact that an inspirational coach can make on an individual. 

HUSTLE – Grab Your Opportunities and Never Give Up!

Coach Ken instilled the value of “hustle” through seemingly commonplace moments with his athletes. Former Konawaena student-athlete Amy Johnson recalls Coach driving his truck alongside his cross country runners as they ran down the famed Ali’i Drive during practices. During one practice, he slowed down alongside her, calling out “You’ve got this Amy!” which encouraged her to dig deeper instead of slowing down.

Photo by Sydney Rae on Unsplash.

All of Coach Ken’s athletes can attest to the fact that when a coach believes in you, you believe in your own potential to hustle! 

“Those who choose to settle for comfortable choose to give up,” affirms Doris. “To hustle means to grab your opportunities and never give up!”

Paying it Forward

A good coach can teach an athlete to run. An exceptional coach will teach us to find adventure in chasing after the uncertain and uncomfortable. A good coach can train runners to improve. An inspirational coach will teach us that to put in our best effort for the sake of pursuing a dream or goal is a journey and one that makes life worth living! 

So how do we repay those coaches in our lives who have taught us that true winning is giving your all, and in doing so changed our lives for the better?

Doris explains that “There is never a way to repay a mentor, friend, coach, and an example like that, except to ‘pay it forward.’ I can share my love of running and experiences with others, thanks to Coach Ken.”

Paying it forward can take many forms. It can look like encouraging a friend to sign up for their first 5k, or sharing our love of running by coaching a track team or running club, as Patrick has discovered.   “I hope I can share a piece of this man that I loved and admired with new student-athletes, because I understand the difference it makes in our lives when we have someone in our corner, believing in us, so we can be our very best.”

In memory of Coach Ken (1922 – 2018)

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