The man in the picture above is Jim Boughton. For the past couple of decades, he’s been a math teacher and cross country coach at Dubuque Senior High School.
I first met Coach Boughton when I was about ten or eleven years old, when my older brother Greg joined up with the cross country team. Back then, he was just Mister Boughton but after seeing how he molded Greg into a runner, I had no doubt that I wanted him to be my coach. That came true when I entered High School.
He was an awesome coach. He ran with us during workouts. Even with 60+ guys on the team, he took the time to be with each of us and make sure we were feeling right or maybe adjusting our stride or pushing a little harder. During the award ceremony at the end of each year, Coach could recite every runner’s time and where it happened without referring to notes. He knew us all that well.
You know something? It wasn’t until after I graduated High School that I discovered not everyone’s coach did the workout with their athletes. To this day, I use that as a measure of how dedicated a coach is to his athletes.
Even though I graduated in ’93, Coach B hasn’t stopped coaching me.
About six or seven years ago, I was in a bit of a running slump. I was putting one foot in front of the other, but I wasn’t making any progress. I almost gave up on running.
I had to look backwards to see what was missing. It all came down to the core basics : putting in the miles, proper eating, the mental mindset, the hard work. Even hitting every water fountain you pass on race day. In short, it was those things Coach B taught me as a teenager that I’d forgotten.
Remembering those lessons, I cut 26 minutes off my marathon PR. I regularly place in my age group in races. I have more medals hanging on my office wall than I ever have in my life. I’m almost as fast now as I was when I was under his tutelage. This brings me immense joy.
I think if I mentioned this to Coach, he’d just smile. He has that way about him.
Last November, Coach Boughton suffered a seizure while teaching class. Shortly afterward, he was diagnosed with brain tumor which led to brain cancer. During his fight, he and my Mom spoke often. She was fighting cancer as well and the two of them leaned on one another. At times, he’d be the Coach. Other times, he’d have to listen to her to get that extra little push.
Coach’s cancer is aggressive and chemotherapy is not working. He may not see Fall and the next Cross Country season. The team has been left in the hands of Paul Kilgore, one of my classmates and a guy who will no doubt tell you he’s been molded in Coach’s image, just like so many of us.
Where I lack words, Dennis Healy can provide. He was an English teacher at Senior as well as the Girl’s Cross Country coach. He and Boughton had a great friendship that he wrote about in this article in the Telegraph Herald.
If you’re a runner or if you’re a writer or an artist or a teacher or whatever, you had someone that played a role in your life and molded you. It might be a good time to let them know.
I hope Coach knows just how much all of his hard work and patience has meant to the hundreds or thousands of runners he’s coached over the past 20+ years.
I’m fairly certain he knows. But I still want to tell him and I hope I can before he’s gone.