If you are lucky, you will meet someone when you’re young who you are afraid to disappoint and who you are eager to please. In meeting Jim Connelly, who died yesterday, I was very lucky. That moment 23 years ago is special to me because I felt I had gotten on the good side of a person I respected, admired, and genuinely liked. I remember feeling very happy. I was not his best runner, nor was I his best student, but the affection he showed in that small gesture proved that he appreciated me. And it wasn’t just for whatever joke I had cracked a second earlier. He appreciated me—my effort, commitment, and budding discipline. That small, friendly gesture made me feel a foot taller.
Actually, in the four years that I ran for Mr. Connelly, I did grow a foot taller, so maybe there’s something to that statement. I first met him in August of 1988, when I was all of 4’7”, but his reputation preceded him. And man, what a reputation! He was the kind of short man a short kid turns into a role model.