It began many years before I met Neil Cook, I presume as a young guy Neil found his calling and place in this world as a runner, triathlete, coach and friend. His path to endurance sports was a little different than others. While suffering from the summer doldrums he laced up one afternoon and headed out, he was hooked. Starting that first run back in July of 1978 started the beginning of the rest of his life.
Neil is one of those guys who tells you a story that keeps you begging for more. I’ve heard a novel’s worth of Huckleberry Fin-esk tales that leave you scratching your head wondering in disbelief. Neil will tell you about countless triathlons he completed, or the 15 different experiences he had racing the New York City marathon or the four trips he made to the Boston Marathon. Neil’s PR is sub 3 hours, which is crazy fast 2:56:17 in 1983 at NYC, Neil’s average marathon race was 3:25. For me it isn’t his race resume that makes him a pillar of the endurance community, it’s his ability to make you want to attend the next workout and improve you splits all while enjoying some laughs along the way.
In one of our local tri clubs best jokes; for the first year I knew Neil he knew me as Steve. We still tease each other about to this day, Neil helped me improve my running form while always yelling at Steve to stop heal striking. I’m happy to report I don’t heal strike any longer (well I should say when Neil is watching). After nearly two seasons of the Steve joke I reached a breaking point and while running Harlem Hill repeats, Neil called me off the course to say I was done after three loops, only he told Steve to stop. I grit my teeth and hammered past him and Coach Josh Gold yelling, “I’m not f-king Steve! And Dan has one more loop in him!!” Well I never looked back to see his reaction. I could only hear Josh cracking up and explaining to Neil my real name, and to Neil’s credit the guys kept calling me Steve around Neil to keep the joke going. After my fourth loop with the exhausted panting of a dog I staggered into the group of triathletes who were waiting to see the other shoe drop and me go nuts or whatever funny thing happened next.
Neil, closed out the workout without bring any additional mention to my name. Only after the group broke up did he approach me and we walk/jogged home. As we spoke we forged a relationship that is only found between athlete and coach over a sport so dear to a community of so few.
Neil is more and not just to me, he coaches a group of Asphalt Green TriClub members all year long. Keeping a bunch of A type triathletes and egos in check is a monumental task. Neil does this not just at run workouts but across pool lanes as well. However as impressive as this is Neil gets to know his athletes, even if by the wrong name (which seems to be a case unique to only me) he tells his athletes with ease what they are doing well, what others should watch because your doing butt kicks better than everyone or your squat jumps are magazine perfect, Neil is promoting and re-enforcing the team mentality. Neil takes the time to talk to everyone during recovery sets and post workout at the Bars Neil is the center of attention.
I’ve had coaches my whole life: baseball, tennis, and triathlon and none of them bring what Neil brings to every practice. A smile, a quote, a joke and most importantly a positive attitude that Chrissie Wellington could only come close too. Happy Birthday to you Neil, see you at Speed at 5:45am on Tuesday.