Lisbon graduate joins OATCC Coaches Hall of Fame

LISBON – Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. That’s what Lisbon native Julie Cole proved after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2008.

Her battle with breast cancer has turned the corner and led her to new relationships she may otherwise not have had.

“I always say it’s one of the best things that can happen to you, but it’s awful,” Cole said. “God Bless the parents and everyone, because when they were telling me I looked good, I didn’t look good.”

For 15 months, her life was virtually put on hold. A life that consisted of doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy and running left little time for much else.

“When that was finally all over, I was going around the house cleaning stuff and it looked like I had been gone and came back from a vacation that was a year long,” Cole said. “Life kind of stood still for a year and half.”

Despite undergoing rigorous chemotherapy treatments, she still found time for her two passions: coaching and running.

“I am proud to say that I missed only one practice during the whole track season of 2009,” Cole said. “I was the only bald female coach at the state meet that year. I have pretty short hair anyway. Everyone handles things differently, but it didn’t bother me a all.”

Cole said that while she was meeting with her doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, running and coaching were two things that she would not put on hold. Within a matter of days after her diagnosis she had a list of parents of kids on her team that would help from cooking to transportation to treatment.

“They were great, the parents because I knew them, but not that well. When they took me to treatments, we would sit and talk for however many hours long the treatment was,” Cole said. “And it was nice in that regard. I have lifelong friends, and they have my back.”

The hardest part for Cole wasn’t undergoing treatment or losing her hair, but having to tell kids when she learned of her diagnosis.

“When I got sick, I didn’t want them to be afraid. I wanted to be comfortable but at least not afraid” she said. “If they had questions for them to come and ask. So I think that part of it was good because hearing that word meant that you are going to die.”

Cole, a positive person to begin with, never let her attitude waiver throughout her illness. Despite feeling tired one day while running with her team, there was no time to quit because running was such a strong part of her life.

“It was really windy that day and we were running straight into this wind and I made a comment as to how tired I was that day,” Cole said. “One of the girls asked ‘why are you out here?” and I said, ‘This is what I do.'”

After surviving her bout with cancer, the 1979 Lisbon High School graduate was recently inducted into the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame. An inductee of the inaugural class at Lisbon David Anderson and Berkshire High Schools, where she coached, the OATCCC induction had a different feeling to it.

“The high school one’s are great for my high school and for where I work, but that is kind of like being a big fish in a small pond,” Cole said. “But this is pretty amazing that I’ve gone on the website and seen all of the past inductees. It’s full of olympians and when I was running in high school I knew about them because all of the meets were named after them, So that was a good deal.”

Coaching was a calling that Cole has had ever since she can remember. Her teams have qualified for multiple state meets in track and cross country, and many of her athletes have gone on to have successful collegiate careers as well.

“I’m assuming that that is why I was inducted, because my running wasn’t very impressive,” Cole said. “I think for whatever reason it’s a blessing and I’m able to relate to the kids pretty well with my own experiences from high school and college give me some credibility with them. Once you get the ball rolling, no one really wants to be the class that screws up.”

For Cole, the recognition is nice, but she is quick to point out that she didn’t do it alone.

“It’s nice to know that people notice what we do, but I don’t think it was just me,” Cole said. “Because it’s 30 years of the parents and the kids and the community. It’s a nice ongoing tradition.”

To have the ability to make an impact in those kids lives is something that Cole reflects on with pride.

“I don’t pretend that I had a role in their success in college and after high school,” she said. “But I like to think that we instilled in them the values and the love of the sport at the high school level.”

Through it all, running and coaching helped get her through that difficult period and gave her something to focus on and prepare for each day. That made dealing with an illness as serious as cancer a lighter burden.

“It wasn’t tough,” Cole said “Because I was doing the things that I love the most.”