In the fall of 2016 I attended a volunteer fair at Dalhousie University to see if we might recruit more volunteer coaches for our not for profit, Girls Gone Gazelle Run Club. Quite frankly I also hoped to find some younger role models for the Gazelles because there is a saying that you have to see it to be it. And I wanted the Gazelles to see someone that they could more easily relate to, other girls still in school (though much further along). I am a great coach but I am usually 35+ years older than the girls I am coaching.
That fair only resulted in one volunteer. And I didn’t even get her information at the fair. Though I think I must have given her a business card. Shortly after the volunteer fair I got this email. I share it now because it speaks to the volunteer, coach, mentor and leadHER that she was:
“I am a student at Dalhousie University, and I am interested in learning more about this program! I am from Pembroke Ontario, and I participated in a running club throughout junior high and high school and it had a great impact on me! I am still running recreationally and I realize now more than ever the positive physical and mental impacts it has. I am interested in getting involved as a volunteer with this program as I think it is important for girls to be exposed to healthy living in a safe and encouraging environment.” – Melissa Mantifel
I took a few days to respond but I can tell you that on November 1, 2016 when I returned her email we had just completed our last race of the year and the Gazelle program wouldn’t start back until April of 2017. So I let Melissa know we would love her help but that I’d have to meet her first and evaluate her coaching style by watching her interaction with the Gazelles. So while she wanted to help, I didn’t have a way to capture that interest right away.
Luckily for us, Coach Melissa followed up that next spring. And more importantly she showed up to our next training session. When I say she showed up, I mean she mentally and physically she always showed up. The Gazelles were her priority and it showed. To my knowledge Melissa is the only coach we ever had that didn’t have a vehicle and had to take the bus to our races, training, parties, etc which could be in Halifax (where she lived) or in various parts of Dartmouth (where I live) and she always made it on time.
Coach Melissa brought an energy to practice that was infections. She was always positive, fun, silly but most of all dependable. Coach Melissa was the coach that never missed a practice even though as a university student that meant she had to prioritize her volunteering over exams, work, anything that might come up unexpectedly. And she did all that as I already mentioned without a vehicle.
And I hate to admit this but as the head coach, I often delegated the harder parts of practice to Melissa. I depended on Coach Melissa to be the fast coach, to race the gazelles when needed, to lead the warm up drills and to lead our post workout stretches. [Heck I even pulled her on stage at a Sole Sisters 5K to warm up the crowd when our planned performer was late – not realizing asking her to perform in front of thousands might not be something she wanted to do!].
To say Melissa made our practices better is an understatement. And she was the most dependable coach we ever had. Once she started coaching, she was at all our sessions (spring, summer and fall); whatever we needed she provided and she encouraged her friends to become volunteer coaches too.
Coach Melissa is quirky in the best way. She used to lead our warm up drills and pretend to be a unicorn. The gazelles loved her and loved pretending to be unicorns too. Sole Sisters Women’s Race has a unicorn theme this year. And who knows, maybe part of that inspiration came from Coach Melissa who was the most unicorn like coach we’ve ever had.
Looking back today, I feel rather sentimental about all the years that she coached hundreds of Gazelles on our behalf. Coach Melissa will no longer be an assistant coach as she will be starting medical school later this year. I learned just how difficult it is to be accepted into medical school as I followed the long, hard process that Coach Melissa endured. I can’t help but think that Coach Melissa being a runner herself, she treated the process of getting into medical school like one of those long, hard, nothing is going right kind of runs that you just keep going. She didn’t give up and she didn’t stop. I don’t think of Melissa as running away now. I think of her running even further into our community as this is where she wants to be a doctor.
Thank you Coach Melissa for everything you have done for Girls Gone Gazelle Run Club. Tina Turner put it best when I think of your time with us as a coach:
“You’re simply the best, better than all the rest. Better than anyone, anyone I ever met.”