I met Chuck Coats at the Three Capes Relay this year and wanted just a little bit of his energy. Even at the end of a relay this guy was still bouncing around, ready to go for more. I ran into him again at the 12 Bridges Relay and even though he only had one other teammate (our Run Oregon Blogger, Brian) to share the mileage with, he still had infectious enthusiasm and spirit. I knew this guy was an impressive runner with a Prefontaine mustache going on, but I had no idea how much he’s overcome.
This talented runner spent twenty years drinking instead of lacing up his running shoes and, after hearing his story, he’s lucky to have lived through it. Chuck was raised in Prineville and knew he was a fast runner from grade school. He loved to run and it was a great way to burn off some of his extra energy. He went to Crook County High School and ran a 15:25 in the 5k. In cross country he took 5th in state his Senior year and helped his team win the state meet. The next 18 years would be more of a blur, where alcohol would consume his life and running would only be a part of his past.
He would get sober from time to time and participate in out-patient rehabs, but didn’t really get sober until he hit rock bottom. Most people don’t understand the triggers and chemicals that affect people fighting dependency, but it’s a fight they battle every day, before and after they clean up. After almost two decades on a running hiatus, Chuck decided to get back into the running mix. In July of 2000 he ran a 10k on the beach at Seaside. He placed third overall, but it was the act of running itself that brought the emotions. It was surreal to be running again, but this was just the start. He would soon fill their home with all sorts of plaques, trophies and race medals. Chuck traded his alcohol addiction for a healthy running addiction. He wouldn’t say he’s recovered, because every day he has to continue to make a choice to stay sober and, fortunately, he continues to commit to that decision.
A true test of his sobriety and will came when his wife of almost twenty years got sick. Two days before she passed away, she gave Chuck one final request. With her last act of love, she made Chuck promise to stay sober and that’s a promise he’s kept. She also gave Chuck her blessing to continue with his crazy running stunts and, for that, the running community is grateful.
This guy broke an American record for the 3k Masters, running an 8:56, ran a 2:50 (‘and change’) marathon at the California International Marathon and is often holding his own at local races with kids more than half his age. There is no doubt that Chuck Coats is an impressive runner, but the stuff that impresses me about Chuck has very little to do with what he does on the track or when he crosses a finish line. Chuck is a runner with heart and that’s what I admire.
He’s fast, but he’s the first to remind you to keep going and that everyone out there, regardless of pace, is feeling the pain. I admire that he runs hard and pushes himself, but I truly appreciate his enthusiasm for the sport and for life. He loves to run and he’s good at it, but he appreciates life and living every single day to the fullest. He always has a huge smile, arms open for a hug and loves to talk about running. We need more people like Chuck.
That smile and his story encourage the ladies at Coffee Creek, a facility for women battling addictions of their own. Chuck doesn’t shy away or ignore his past, he uses it to genuinely live every day and encourages everyone around him to do the same. He’s preparing for his next adventure, a long road trip with destination events all along the way, pretty much a perfect running vacation.
I’m so glad Joe and Annette suggested I chat with Chuck and hear his story. Before that, I only knew he was a FAST and friendly runner, now I know there’s a lot more to Chuck Coats. He’s a gifted runner, encourages others and always makes people smile. I want to be like that, spreading smiles and warmth. His attitude isn’t because everything has been easy, quite the contrary. He appreciates life because of all he’s been through and it’s made him who he is today. Chuck has friends all over the country and I can see why. Next time you see this fast guy at a race, make sure to say hi and expect to have a new friend.