Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Coach Ken McDonald

It's been a while since I posted an entry on this blog. A lot has happened, and I have many things to say. At the same time, I find it hard lately to be able to speak my thoughts or feelings out loud. In the past, writing has helped me think more clearly and make senses of my feelings. And now seems like the right time to try it again. Here goes.

I don't normally talk about the people in my life. I guess I'm kind of protective or private when it comes to family or friends. But there are a few people it seems like I should talk about, especially the ones whe have recently passed away.

The person who is in my heart this week was a soccer coach of mine. In 2009, he was the head coach for both the Men's AND Women's Soccer teams at Deaflympics. He believed in me and gave me a chance at a time when it felt like nobody else did, a time when I was even doubting myself. I wasn't the only person to have this experience. He did the same for hundreds, maybe thousands of other soccer players. His name was Ken McDonald, or as we affectionately called him, Coach Mac.

It's really hard for me to find the words to describe this great man who was so important to me and so many other people. When he was coaching the Deaflympics team, he always told me to believe in myself and I would do great things. I have so many memories of things he did to encourage me, but one stands out in my memory. It was halftime during the first game in the 2009 Deaflympics in Taiwan. Coach Mac pulled me out of the huddle and waved me over with a serious look on his face. I thought I had made a mistake in the first half and he was going to tell me that I had to do better. Instead he game a huge bear hug and smiled. "You did good," he said. It was just a simple sentence and gesture, but it got me pumped up. More than any lecture could, I wanted to prove him right. I wanted to do my best for the team, for Coach Mac, for myself. After the last game, when we were undefeated and had received our gold medals, I gave Coach Ken a huge hug and thanked him for seeing what I could do even when I couldn't see it for myself.

That's not the whole story. Coach Mac gave his all to our Deaflympics teams even though he was fighting for his life. He had a battle with cancer for 7 and half years. Even though he was sick, he kept on coaching soccer. I am amazed and humbled by his dedication and commitment to the players and teams he has coached during the last few years. He kept going because he had a deep love for the game, a powerful faith in the potential of his players and the support of his amazing wife, Terri. So many soccer players have benefited from Ken's immense knowledge of the game. So many young people have become better than they knew they could be because of his faith in them. So many of us have been inspired by his determination to make the most of his life despite his cancer.

Coach Mac died last weekend. It seemed important to me to put down in words the impact he had on my life. I am a better person because I knew him. His life made a difference, and he will be missed.