Silent Hero

Time is indiscriminate. The same 24 hours in a day pass by for everyone, regardless of age, income, or status. We may all experience the passing of time differently, but it is the same nonetheless.

I believe as we get older, the days seem to zip along a little bit faster. Days, weeks, months, years: all of them building upon themselves in a frantic blur of memories and times gone by. There are some moments, however, where everything seems to stop.

I have very fond memories of my high school years. I recall the friendships and the sprawling 13-acre campus right on Biscayne Bay. I remember trying to sneak into the Vizcaya Estate and Freshman initiations (i.e. getting tossed into three-foot deep water from the school parking lot). But what I enjoyed the most of my high school experience was the camaraderie I experienced by participating in different sports.

In high school, I was a runner. Not premier, but good enough to be competitive on the 2-A school circuit. At the height of my Senior year, I was running ten miles per day – three in the morning and seven more after school – and I could complete a 5k in under 15 minutes.

I couldn’t have achieved that level of personal success if not for my coach. Coach Sally Ann Carrie was a tornado of a coaching personality, but you couldn’t tell by her thin and petite frame. She was demanding yet fair, tough yet understanding. She was different from any other woman I had met at that age – primarily because she wasn’t Hispanic – and she opened my eyes to what it truly meant to apply my potential and make the most of the gifts God gave me.

Sally believed in me in a way no one had before. It was different from the support I received from my family. It was different from the mentoring I had received from previous coaches in other sports. Sally made me want to push harder. She made me want to be better. She taught me that true focus, that tunnel-visioned attention to detail, has the power to unlock a talent within us we never knew existed.

I carry those lessons with me today, more than twenty years from the miles and sweat and sometimes physical anguish that taught them to me. When I feel the need to push a little bit harder, I can recall the sound of her voice as I would whip around turn three on the final lap of the mile run. “C’mon, Gil. C’mon!” Her voice both distinct and direct.

That voice echoes in my heart tonight, a heart saddened by the news that Sally has only a couple more weeks left to live. Having fought a prolonged battle with cancer over the past several years, my coach has decided that her run here on earth has come to an end. As her cancer has spread, she has made the decision to prepare to meet God in peace.

I think of all the time that has passed since I last saw Coach Sally. Days, weeks, months, years. Decades. I am saddened by the reality of how easy it is to lose touch as we go on with our lives. I feel regret at not having reached out to her on a regular basis. I feel shame at taking for granted she would always be there, just an email or phone call away.

As it turns out, cancer can be just as indiscriminate as time.

Sally Ann Carrie-Martinez
Thank you, Sally, for being a hero to me, and for teaching me what it means to dig deep and finish the race. May you enter into Heaven with the knowledge that you are loved and that you will be greatly missed.

Updated: Coach Sally was called home by God at 3:34 the morning of Friday, September 27. May she rest in peace.

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14 thoughts on “Silent Hero

  1. What a beautiful tribute, thanks for sharing. Do you have any way to contact Sally? Reading your heartfelt words would touch her heart and bring her such a sense of pride during a time that when she could surely use a pick me up.

    1. Thank you, Marion. Yes, I do consider myself very blessed to have had her in my life. I firmly believe part of the man I am today is a direct result of the influence she had on me as my coach and friend.

  2. Great coaches–the ones who teach you more than just wins and losses or personal-best times– are very special people. I’m fortunate that I still get to see my very favorite one from my playing days on a regular basis. We always greet each other with a hug. I never neglect to tell him thank you. All these years later, he is still helping me.

    Great tribute to yours. She obviously had a profound impact on you. Sounds like she has come to some peace. I hope her family and friends can do the same.

    Not only does cancer suck, it doesn’t discriminate.

    1. Thanks, MP. It is amazing, and often overlooked, the impact coaches have on youth. I still look back fondly on my youth football coach and how tough (in a good way) and influential he was on his players. Sally was a very special person in my life, and she always pushed me to be my best. It was such a blessing to have her as a coach and friend.

  3. The photo shows how much your coach loved life and athleticism. What a nice tribute you have paid for her contribution to yours. This post also made me realize why teachers do what they do … to interact with and affect the next generations. I am sure that Sally knew your life would do the same.

    1. Thank you, Lenny. I am saddened by the fact she is no longer with us, but even more so by how I, too, take for granted so many relationships in my life. Every day is a blessing, and every connection we share with someone is important.

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