Thursday, February 1, 2007

Michael Woods

Coach Michael Woods: A Life of Service

By: Joseph W. Norman

“Only that day dawns to which you are awake.” This quote of Henry David Thoreau’s moves Coach Michael Woods on a daily basis. To him this profound statement says, “There is an incredible world out there and you can be a meaningful part of it, if you just wake up to that fact.” His life has been a quest involving many challenges and accolades fueled by a passion for life, education, and helping others. As a sci-fi fan, one of his favorite movies is “Journey to the Center of the Earth” which is fitting as his life, metaphorically, has been similar; The “journey” being his life and the “earth” being the search for his way to be a meaningful part of this world. As a lover of this world with a diverse knowledge base, his heaven would involve the ability to travel through time and see moments of great influence. “I would have loved to have been there when the dinosaurs walked the earth, I would have loved to have been there during the Civil War and seen what that was like, and I would have loved to have been in Baltimore when Edgar Allen Poe was walking the streets.” He is a man with many interests as referenced here, but one that is the most important to him has resounded through this entire journey, helping people.

Coach Woods’ life has been one of service through a variety of roles as a father, teacher, coach, and camp director to name a few. Growing up near Oneonta, New York, he developed a passion for running which has stayed with him his entire life. It was here that he began a constant quest for bettering himself. His training seemed mundane to him as it lacked variety so he felt that there must be a better way. Through a multitude of readings such as books by Arthur Lydiard, and a collection of training notes from a camp in Olympia, Washington, Woods was inspired. “There was way more to coaching distance runners then I was exposed to.” He seems to have found the knack throughout his career as a coach recently winning the first National Championship the State University of New York at Geneseo with his 2005 women’s cross country team. This is by all means not the limit of his success because along the way he has produced countless All-Americans, double digit SUNYAC titles between the men’s and women’s squads, and a tremendous record as a high school coach at York High School, where he also taught English. One could call this success, which in turn leads to the next fundamental piece of Coach Woods’ story, his definition for success.

“I think successful people have plans. A successful person defines what success is for him or her and then makes a plan to achieve it. I don’t think you can just say, success just hit me, it doesn’t work.” To Coach Woods success has been giving of himself for the people around him. The first thing he thinks about in the morning is the team he coaches and what he can do to help them better themselves and enjoy what they are doing. He has found great fulfillment in coaching because of how he defines success for himself. “I wanted to produce a national champion, I have several times over. I wanted to win a National Championship as a team, we did. So now my goal is to repeat.” Some of his fondest memories have been from his coaching success but this has not been the only medium of fulfillment for Coach Woods. Being good to his family, especially his two children, has been of utmost importance.

In fact, one of his greatest memories of success was watching his son and daughter graduate from college. After going through a challenging divorce, he was determined to be a good father to his children and give them what they deserved. “Ultimately, when I got divorced, it helped me become a better human being and it certainly made me become a better father. It made me realize how much my children meant to me.” He has taken this thought to heart and has been a good role model for his children. Both are now coaches and have budding careers in their respective positions. This is a good example of how the challenging moments in our lives are often the most fulfilling. The divorce made him more introspective and woke him up to relating better with other people’s needs and in general, being a better person.

Proof of Woods success as a Coach

Another challenge Woods has endured that he marks as one of the worst and best moments of his life is the day he was diagnosed with cancer. “All of my dreams of invincibility went up in the air.” He said he drove around for a couple of hours and just thought about life, but he never got down on himself. This positive attitude and determination propelled him through this time and helped him beat the disease. This challenge reinforced what he learned earlier about relationships and taking care of the people around you. Woods feels that he is here on this Earth to help people. That has led him into the jobs he has taken, as teacher, coach, and camp director.

His teaching career was fueled by a passion for literature of all kinds, but most prominently early American literature like that of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and many others. In fact, one of his favorite books is Twain’s, Huckleberry Finn. During his tenure at York as an English teacher he was blessed with the opportunity to teach this book and many of his other favorites. He feels that as an educator, if you love what you are doing it is going to come across to your students. The objective in his classroom was to get the students to enjoy reading and develop a passion for life long learning. Although he is retired from the education field after a thirty five year career, he still considers himself an English teacher because of how much it means to him. The medium he uses now is everyday life rather than the classroom.

Besides teaching and coaching, another role Woods has served is as the Camp Director of a Rotary Camp for children with disabilities. He worked the camp for over twenty years and his experiences have changed his outlook on the world. In fact, he goes out of his way to get the people he likes (“and even the ones I don’t like”) to work there because of what it meant to him. It helped him appreciate his own life more and was fulfilled by what he could do for these children. Although he is not involved with the camp anymore, his children still are which means much to him.

Although Coach Woods has experienced many ups and downs he has always stayed true to himself. He followed his passions and achieved great success in them, but it did not come easily. Hard work, a positive attitude, and much determination were the constants that made his story what it is today. Besides his teaching and coaching, Woods enjoys golfing, gardening, and fishing in his spare time. The latter he does not do enough he says, but he hopes to get to more often when he retires. However, that day may be a long ways away because he still enjoys what he does and has even more that he wants to accomplish.

It is fitting to end this tribute to Coach Michael Woods’ life and success the way it began, with the quote that inspires him daily; “Only that day dawns to which you are awake.”

Michael Woods

Coach, Cross Country / Track and Field

SUNY Geneseo