There are some things you simply can’t coach or teach. For instance, Liz Green's passion.
Green won four medals for Prophetstown at state during the 1980s, most notably silver as the lead leg of the 1,600-meter relay team that posted 4:06 flat in the 1984 event.
But she never jumped. Thus, since taking over as the Erie-Prophetstown girls jump coach – she now helps with the guys, too – Liz Green has meticulously studied the craft.
“You don’t create a great jumper,” Green said after Tuesday’s practice at Erie Middle School. “It’s in their genes, and it's about getting the most out of them. In the triple jump, especially, it’s all about breaking down the phases and working with where their weakness is.”
But no matter how much the YouTube vault swells or how many clinics are held, Green’s best ally is her splendid source.
“My passion is the kids. Working with the kids and helping them be successful is my favorite thing,” said Green, who has three jumpers in four events for an E-P squad with state title aspirations. “I get so many kids from so many different backgrounds.
"Sometimes, sports is the only thing that helps them see that they can be successful. It gives them confidence to be better in life.”
Call it paying it forward. Green has no problem remembering what it felt like to be a freshman who was picked on to the point that she needed something to grab onto. A place she could find strength.
“I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence, and track gave me that,” she said. “So I like to be able to help the kids with that.”
Her affable mentor, Don Robinson, admits he was more of a taskmaster in high school. But even his stern coaching style – at least compared to his gentile approach today – got through to young Liz.
“Don is the best motivator and encourager ever,” Green said. “He tells you what you did right and tells you, maybe if we change it, we can do even better. He’s been a great role model for me,”
That said, she could empathize with her athletes’ reaction to the Real Runner, a piece of equipment whose tagline reads, “The machine that coaches love and athletes hate.” Green's coaches made her use that to gain strength and lengthen her stride, and she paid that forward, too. Until the school got rid of the machine last year.
“They hated it,” she whispered, even though no one was around. “It takes a little getting used to. It’s not easy. Your feet fall out of the machine, and you're saying, 'I hate it! I can't do it!' But it really made a difference.”
Track is just one of many of Green’s passions. She loves to cook, and refuses to send her husband, Tom, sons, Josh and Jonah, or nephew, Brad, off in the morning without a big breakfast. She’s also still an avid runner and hopes to tackle her first half-marathon this year.
But trumping those passions is her faith. She heads up the Prophetstown chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It’s yet another way she connects with her athletes, like the team’s torch-bearer, Paige Rus, a member of the Erie chapter.
"We share our faith on the field and in everything," Rus said.
And she has faith in her coach, considering her background.
"She knows how hard it is to run a 400, and she can empathize with us after a race," Rus said. "She's very trustworthy and has a lot of experience. Whatever she says, I trust her."
Rus recalls narrowly missing the Day 2 cut at state in the triple jump as a sophomore.
"I was down and disappointed, but she helped me pick my spirits up," Rus said. "She goes beyond what's expected of a coach. She sets a tremendous example of how to handle yourself when you perform well and when you've had a bad day."
And Rus says Green is a “mother hen,” always reminding athletes to stay hydrated, eat well and get plenty of rest.
To think the faith they share might have brought them – and the hundreds of other athletes Green’s touched – together.
Her mission trip during the summer of 1989 between her sophomore and junior years at Greenville College found her a couple of weeks late for the fall semester. So she approached Robinson, and he was ecstatic to have her help. After finishing her sociology degree, she volunteered in 1992 as a coach.
Now the E-P program is something of a pipeline for Greenville which, when Green attended, was so very much in its infantile phase that its women tracksters had to borrow the mens uniforms.
A few hours after Tuesday’s practice, once the sun set and about 8 hours before boarding the bus for Charleston, Green went for a run.
“I don’t think I could survive without it,” Green said.
Job: Teacher's aid at Erie High School
Coaching role: Erie-Prophetstown girls jumps coach
Alma maters: High school - Prophetstown, Class of 1986. College - Greenville College, Class of 1991, majored in sociology
Family: Husband, Tom, sons, Josh (Erie senior) and Jonah (Erie freshman), and nephew Brad (Erie freshman)
Hobbies: Fellowship of Christian Athletes, cooking, running