By: Jason Suarez
I first heard about Coby Jacobus about a month ago when I saw a tweet from a former teammate of mine that said “this is why I love my sport” with a link attached to it. The video was about a young track coach named Coby Jacobus who had gone through a kidney transplant, and the hard work he put in to get back to the sport he loves.
It was one of the most eye opening and inspiring videos I have seen in a while. I must have watched it three or four more times immediately after. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who does this, but when I look for motivation to workout I tend to watch YouTube videos; like Usain Bolt breaking a world record at the Olympics, or a Carmelita Jeter compilation of her running people down in the 100 meter dash (her facial expressions are the best as she crosses the finish line), or one of my all time favorites, and a personal YouTube classic to me, Justin Gatlin’s “Long Strider.” I’m pretty confident that sooner or later the Coby Jacobus video will be one that we all turn to too.
After researching and finding more about his very inspiring story I reached out to him for an interview so I could share his story with you too.
JS: How hard was it for you to get back into running shape? What were some of your sources of inspirations during & post-surgery?
CJ: June 22nd was my very first day back running, exactly three months post surgery. I ran one mile around the high school track with the only expectation of finishing. I did finish and I had a feeling of massive fatigue in my legs, tight calves and slight pain from the surgery. As the weeks went by I had days I couldn’t run more than 5 minutes followed by days I could shuffle for 45 minutes. At times I did get frustrated. It wasn’t until about five months post surgery that I felt good. I actually remember the day. I went out for a trail run after work and about 25 minutes in, something just clicked and I began to hammer. I felt so strong. I finished that run and knew I was back. September through October I began running consecutive 50-60 mile weeks! For the first time in almost seven years I actually experienced the feeling of getting fit, it was an incredible feeling!
As far as inspirations during and post surgery, I struggled to really find any. I remember hearing about a professional soccer player making a comeback and I also read a story about some guy running a marathon in like five hours. But nothing about serious runners coming back to pre-sickness fitness levels. This is why when Dicks approached me about the video, I knew I had to do it, to provide that hope to other people with kidney failure and to help promote organ donation. Since the video has come out, I have actually had quite a few people reach out to me telling me that the video did in fact give them hope.
JS: What was your recovery time and rehab like?
CJ: I was on my feet the day of the surgery. I think being an athlete you always feel better on your feet, so it was important for me to get out of bed and walk as soon as possible. The transplant unit at Mass General Hospital has a nurse’s station in the middle of it, creating a very small loop that patients would walk around. The loop is so small that a healthy person could walk around it in about 15 seconds. I would actually pretend that this was a track. I would make up a workout for my self, pretending that it was a 400m track. Sometimes it would be 3x1mile (so like 3×4 laps). It was just something to keep my thoughts on the future and to help take my mind off the pain from surgery. I could literally feel progress every day. I went from walking laps on the transplant unit, to walking laps in the hospital to walking miles around Boston. I walked everywhere. The progression of my walking helped me emotionally as well as physically. Running was still a big question mark, but hey, you you gotta walk before you can run. Along the way I did have some issues with medication. It was a trial and error thing with the meds, trying to figure out what worked best.
JS: How many years have you been coaching track, and how did you get started as a coach? What do you like most about coaching?
CJ: In the Spring of 2009 I was asked by a former teammate who was coaching the girls at the time to work with the boys distance kids during spring track. My very first season, one of my athletes ran a new school record of 4:12.04 in the 1600m, winning the New England Track & Field Championship 1600m run. It was a great start and provided the confidence in the rest of my kids to trust my coaching. Today I continue to coach XC, Indoor and Outdoor track. Like I said in the video, one of my favorite things about coaching is watching an athlete who has absolutely no clue what he or she is doing. Slowly over time, they get it. Then one day, usually in a workout, I will watch them across the track and I can see it. Their form has improved, their stride has improved, their fitness has improved….they have become a runner. Sometimes former athletes come back to a meet or to hang out at practice and you hear them say, “wow, look at so and so, wow, he got good…remember when he could barely finish the course.” Its moments like that, when I realize I love coaching.
JS: Who are some of your favorite runners?
CJ: My favorite runner is the unknown collegiate runner who is testing the trail of miles; constantly pushing the envelope in hopes to be the next Brian Sell. The guy making the sacrifices, living at altitude over the summer, taking a few extra years after college to pursue the dream. That’s who I was, that’s who my teammates were, and that’s what I hope my athletes that go on to run in college become.
JS: What’s next for you?
CJ: To coach collegiately in the near future. I have unfinished business at the NCAA level and I hope that one day I can come back as a coach to help athletes who were as committed as myself, to reach goals that they never thought would be possible. In my short time at Central HS I have helped several XC teams as well as individuals do just that. As far as running goes. I would like to PR again at some point on the track! As far as the road…. I think a sub 2:30 marathon would be a great achievement!
JS: How did your partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods come about and how do you hope it impacts other athletes ?
CJ: One of my high school teammates now works for Dicks; he actually visited me a day after surgery. We have stayed in contact over the years and he was aware of my running comeback and coaching accomplishments. He mentioned my name and I was contacted and interviewed via Skype. I guess they liked my story enough to document it. Like I said earlier, I have seen people with organ transplants finish marathons, but had never heard of somebody running anything remotely that fast (2:41:19 – Houston Marathon, 2010).
I hope my story does two things. First, I hope it inspires people to be an organ and tissue donor. Secondly, I want to provide that hope to people who were just diagnosed, on dialysis or are about to go in for surgery that bit of hope that I was looking for in 2008. Like I said in the video, my fathers kidney not only saved my life, it saved my quality of life. If I met you on the starting line of a road race, you would have no idea, and chances are I would probably beat you.
Keep on Runnin’,
What impacted me the most about the video was the message behind it; to never lose sight of your goals despite of what life throws at you. It might be extremely hard to readjust and come to terms with what’s going on; the angle you approach it with might be different but your goal will still be the same.