A Coach’s Dream Come True at the Rio Olympics
“I couldn’t help but think about you during the Olympics and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish over the next 4 years! I am saving my money for Rio!” This is what I sent Ashley Spencer during the London Olympics. We could tell that she was headed for greatness.
Ashley Spencer and Felisha Johnson were on the same Lawrence North girls track team in 2008 and I was (and still am) the head coach. Legretta Smith was Ashley’s hurdle coach and Audrey Deatrick was Felisha’s shot put coach. We knew they had serious potential even in high school. Both athletes had the talent combined with hard work and dedication. When the girls were in high school the three of us decided that if they made an Olympic team, we were going to support them. They both smashed the trials and qualified for Rio. With the trials in July and the Olympics in August, we had 1 month to put together the trip of a lifetime. We certainly did that, but we had serious help from friends and colleagues. A gofundme account covered the cost of our plane tickets and event tickets. Jet Set donated an amazing hotel room on the beach and we were set. “The Coaches” were off to Rio.
We were warned about dirty water, the Zika virus, security, and crime. None of those issues came into play for us. We found the Brazilians to be passionate, fun, and very helpful. It seemed like they did all they could so that we would enjoy our time in Rio. Due to traffic, the best way to get to the track stadium was by subway and train. These one hour trips were always interesting because we met new people and felt that everyone was in the Olympic experience together.
Inside the track stadium we were able to go to the front row and cheer where we thought Ashley and Felisha could hear us. We witnessed Felisha getting 14th and three hard fought races and a bronze medal for Ashley who said that she could hear us in her head to keep fighting when she tripped over a hurdle in the second race. We also got to see world records, many USA gold medals and incredible races celebrated by National Anthems from all over the world. We even got to be a part of the Usain Bolt show in the 200 right after Ashley’s bronze. The stadium was electric. This was all a track coaches’ dream. Coaching and running has taken me a lot of places, but this was the pinnacle. We couldn’t have planned a better trip or outcome. We cannot thank enough everyone who helped us, but I will continue to give back to my athletes and of course send messages to Ashley and Felisha that I am saving for Tokyo!
~ Hillary Church, Team Film Cofounder and Lawrence North Head Track Coach