Be a Gracious Learner


I was sent to Tom’s office for a strength-training plan. I walked in knowing little about Tom besides the fact that he was dating Alyssa, an athlete on the post-collegiate team I was on.

I was 23-years-old and thought I knew everything.  He was 26 and full of passion.

He launched into how we were going to do exercises to push and pull, to gain strength, stability, coordination, and power. The enthusiasm flowed.

I took his program and didn’t do any of it. I just wanted to run and didn’t quite have the confidence to trust someone my own age whom I didn’t know to handle any part of my training. Like I said, I was young and not the brightest…
A few years later, Tom told me “Remember when you walked into my office and blew me off? That was a great day. I reevaluated why we were doing things. And it got an important conversation going. I’m a better coach for it. You had every right to do that. Thanks.”
That’s who Tom was.

He was a learner. A person always looking to better himself. A person who was willing to help.
As I got to know Tom over the two years that I lived in Virginia, I got to see what a desire to learn and grow looked like. Tom cared about coaching. He cared about his personal training business. And he cared about his friends and family. That same passion he showed me that first day in his office applied to all aspects of his life.
A few years later, Tom wrote on Facebook, “My half marathon Sub-90 has been a goal of mine since the fall of 2010, so I definitely need to thank a few people for getting me prepared. I followed a great program (unbeknownst to him) from Steve Magness. It gave me a great mix of distances and types of workouts.”

Well, unbeknownst to you, Tom, you trained me as well. No, not with your strength and conditioning plan, but in understanding what it meant to be a student of your craft. Of always being open to learn and throwaway previous beliefs, if the new ones are better. Through your actions, you changed how I thought about coaching and life in general. I am eternally grateful.

Tom Abbey passed away this week from Brain Cancer. He was far too young. He leaves behind his amazing wife Alyssa, and their two young kids.

Writing is a way that I deal with grief, and I hope that in sharing this short story of Tom, you too can learn just a little bit from a man who gave so much to the world in such a short time.

— Steve

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