SAN FRANCISCO — A top runner who hits the wall. A coach with a cruel illness. A state championship at stake.
Such was the situation last Saturday when Holland Reynolds, a star runner from a small private high school in San Francisco, collapsed at the state cross-country meet and crawled across the finish line to clinch the championship for her team.
Reynolds, 16, a junior, has been a distance runner since she was in third grade. She arrived at San Francisco University High School as a fast freshman in 2008, ended her first season as the team’s top runner and has been the lead runner for the cross-country team ever since.
Her coach, Jim Tracy, 60, arrived at University High School in 1994 and built both the girls’ and boys’ teams into perennial state champions.
Reynolds said Tracy was the best coach she had ever had. “He always tells the truth,” she said. “If you ask him, ‘Well, how do you think I did today?’ he’ll tell you, ‘You had a bad race,’ ” she said. “It’s because of his honesty that when you receive a compliment from him, you know you’ve done really well, and it makes all the runners want to strive to please him.”
Until three years ago, Tracy, an accomplished runner, could keep pace with his fastest runners. Symptoms of his illness began nearly five years ago, he said, when a muscle in his thumb stopped functioning. And last June, he was found to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
But it is only in the past year that the disease has begun to debilitate him. A.L.S. patients, most of whom eventually lose the use of all but their eye muscles, typically live three and a half to four years after the onset of symptoms, but the range can vary widely.