I always knew that I won the Coach Lottery.
It actually happened twice. First, with my high school swim coach, Grant Holicky, who guided me through the minefield of growing up in Boulder, arguably the world’s most athletically biased city. My pro cycling CTS Coach, Dean Golich, then picked up that hefty baton, and helped me navigate the larger world, as my financial wellbeing and personal self-concept became more and more tightly linked to my athletic performance.
I am still grateful for those relationships every day, but I hadn’t internalized the full power of positive mentors until last weekend, when I read Mary Cain’s New York Times account of the abuse she suffered under Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project.
I saw that culture – the team director who told me I could eat a chocolate bar because I was skinny, but not to tell the other riders about it (I was fighting an eating disorder at the time) – but I was insulated from the impacts because the true athletic authorities in my life chose to actively push back against it.
We need to shine a light on the things a coach should never do, but also highlight the things they should.
Dean told me: Be a good person before you are a good athlete. Whenever I made a big leap in performance, he erred on the side of caution, and prescribed extra rest. He was always willing to encourage me to have an extra hamburger if I wanted it, or implored me to sit down and drink a glass of wine.
I never doubted that whatever I chose to do in sport, he would support me, and that my fears and concerns would never be met with retribution or judgement.
Believe me, as a coach, Dean was incredibly tough – that was part of the reason I worked so well with him – but he was equally forceful in mandating good nutrition, recovery, and self-care as he was in mandating tough workouts and tenacity in competition.
As I read Mary’s account, I thought back to a CTS promo video of me, Dean, and Chris Carmichael made in August 2013 when I returned from Italy after winning my second Giro Rosa.
It was more than your average victory: I had retired (ostensibly forever) from cycling in 2012 due to my eating disorder. Over that year, Dean “coached” me informally: He offered support, answered questions, above all encouraged me to get healthy. He always let me know that the door was open if I ever wanted to return, yet never pressured me to make that decision.
I still think my six-years-ago self was dead-on about what is important in a coaching relationship, and I think that those words are even more important to revisit today: