John Habib's Track & Field: 'If Coby can do it, so can I'
TWO DAYS AGO, Coby Jacobus and Dylan Lafond went on a 12-mile run and one can imagine the discussion that took place between them.
First, a little recent history.
It was only five years ago that Jacobus was diagnosed with renal failure and desperately needed a kidney, which he received from his father. Basically, he got a second chance.
Then, three years ago, while coaching at Manchester Central, Jacobus met Lafond, then a sophomore. Unsure of his future plans, Lafond then proceeded to thrive under Jacobus and eventually landed an athletic scholarship to Mount Olive (N.C.) College.
Now, Lafond is one of the top college distance runners in the country - thanks to hard work and a coach's dedication.
A coach who got a second chance.
Jacobus, a native of Simsbury, Conn., was born with a passion to run. In high school one season he was second in the state in the steeplechase and placed eighth in the two-mile event. He attended Marist College for two seasons before transferring to the University of New Hampshire, where he ran two seasons for head coach Jim Boulanger's program as a walk-on.
But in 2007, at age 28, Jacobus learned his kidney was failing. He needed to replace it.
"I felt crappy and at first I thought it was something simple like not getting enough nutrition or sleep," said Jacobus. "But it sunk in when the tests revealed I needed an organ transplant or face the option of being on dialysis."
Jacobus said it was his family, especially his mom, wife and dad, who kept his spirits high.
"They were the driving forces I needed to get me through that tough stretch," said Jacobus. "My mom and wife did all the research on kidney transplants and fortunately they learned Mass. General Hospital had a great reputation for those type of surgeries."
His operation was set for April 22, 2008, which was exactly one day after the Boston Marathon that year.
"That was depressing, driving into Boston knowing I couldn't run in the marathon with my friends," said Jacobus. "Instead I had to go the hospital and take care of my problem."
Fortunately the surgery was a success and only four months later, Jacobus was back running 50 miles a week.
Now, he is featured in a Dick's Sporting Goods advertisement about inspirational athletes. Jacobus is part of the "Run For" series featuring runners' stories about the reasons they run.
Jacobus is a physical education teacher for the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester. He landed his coaching job at Central in the spring of 2009, assisting Mike Hennessy.
At Central, Jacobus has applied his own experience of overcoming his adversity to his coaching job in hopes of bringing out the best in his athletes.
"I tell them my story in hopes of motivating them," said Jacobus. "They'll be times when a kid doesn't feel like running or has other problems causing them to lose their focus. I'll listen and then reach out to them by giving them some perspective."
In Lafond's case, crossing paths with Jacobus opened a door full of opportunity and change.
Entering the cross country season in the fall of 2010, Jacobus heard Lafond had transferred from Trinity to Central.
"I knew Dylan had the ability of running really well if he was trained right," said Jacobus. "I'm a student of the sport of running. I constantly read books and articles on things like why a specific school always wins championships or how to get an athlete to achieve his or her goals."
In 2010, Jacobus started working with Lafond, who finished 32nd overall in the New England Cross Country Championships. In that same season, Hennessy and Jacobus guided the Little Green to the Division I cross country team title and eventually the New England championship.
In 2011, Lafond won the individual Divison I and Meet of Champions cross country titles, establishing himself as one of the top runners in New England. He culminated his high school career with a fifth-place finish in the 2012 New England outdoor Track Championships.
Earlier this month for Mount Olive, Lafond won the 3k steeplechase at the Duke Twilight in 9:03.63, which is his personal best and a school record. It was the ninth-fastest time recorded this season in the NCAA Division II ranks.
It's been an outstanding season for Lafond, who was recently named Conference Carolinas Men's Indoor Track and Field Freshman of the Year and Men's Cross Country Freshman of the Year.
Jacobus revealed a little of the conversation he had with Lafond recently.
"He told me I literally saved his life," said Jacobus. "He told me if he didn't run, he'd be somewhere in Manchester trying to find a job and probably hanging out playing basketball. It feels good to know as a coach, I had a hand in helping someone like Dylan. We've become close friends."
Jacobus has aspirations of coaching on the collegiate level. He loves running so much that he runs each day with his teams in practice. His message is a simple, but important one.
"I want my runners to understand that if they want something bad enough, they can attain it," said Jacobus. "You know, if Coby can do it, so can I. That's the message that hit home to Dylan and I hope it for many others who have the love for running that I've always had since I was a kid."
John Habib's "Track and Field" columns runs Tuesdays during the spring. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.