Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 8, 2009.
If the Press-Citizen chose its Person of the Year only by the number of nominations received, then Bob Brown would have been awarded the recognition posthumously in 2007. For weeks after the beloved Regina cross-country coach's death from pancreatic cancer, hundreds of people sent in their testimonies about how his life changed theirs.
Regina graduate Matt McCue -- who has written for ESPN Rise, Dye State and Runner's World -- has decided to write much more than a Person of the Year nomination. He has pulled together his high school and college running experiences into the self-published book, "An Honorable Run." The story goes back and forth between the lessons McCue learned from Brown and the lessons he learned under University of Colorado coach Mark Wetmore while running with the Buffaloes.
"An Honorable Run" isn't a story for the ages. It's not "Chariots of Fire" or "The Jesse Owens Story." In fact, the book highlights how, no matter how aggressively McCue would try to turn his body into the perfect running machine -- no matter how often he pushed himself for another two miles, no matter how many times he dropped again into an ice bath to numb his legs from the pain -- he never reached the level of perfection he desired.
"'Chariots' has a lot of rich history," McCue told me last week in a phone interview. "This is much more about running itself. ... But I tried to write it in a way that someone who has never been running could still appreciate a coach's influence."
Nor should "An Honorable Run" be thought of as a biography of Brown. Other than a few biographical details -- a paragraph or two with the basic story of Brown's life and a closing section on Brown's initial recovery and eventual death from pancreatic cancer -- Brown comes across as more of a spectral figure than a fully rounded character. More as a source of wisdom than as a person in his own right.
But that's as it should be for a book written by a student about his teacher and coach. A different kind of author might try to separate the man from the legend. But McCue seems completely -- and understandably -- uninterested in deconstructing his mentor.
Instead, McCue is honest about the limitations of the relationship. He writes about how he seldom followed Brown's advice exactly -- he's always putting his own twists on Brown's recommended exercise routine or paying more attention to time and ranking than Brown would suggest. As with many teaching relationships, it's not until the student graduates and goes on into the real world that he realizes the wisdom of what he's been taught.
Although self-published, "An Honorable Run" has been garnering some national attention. McCue has been interviewed by Runners World, and the Sept. 7 issue of Sports Illustrated includes a short note praising the book as "a moving meditation on the coach-athlete bond."
To hear McCue talk more about his memories of Brown, come listen to him read at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights.
Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at email@example.com or 319-887-5435