Coincidences happen by the grace of God.
One day this past January, I was in Mardel’s Bookstore in Lubbock, Texas, where my husband Kent and I were waiting for a nice young man named Nick to finish imprinting Kent’s name on the Bible I had just bought for him as a late Christmas gift.
Kent was wandering around still shopping, so I struck up a conversation with Nick as he worked on the Bible. He asked where we were from and I told him Artesia. His dad lives in Lovington, but what was unusual was the fact that he knew Artesia native Koby Caton very well, as well as Kory Mauritsen and Landon Stallings. All of these people were very familiar to me, as I had taught Koby’s sister, Kirsten Caton Wachter and Landon’s wife, Saranda Matthews Stallings, and Landon’s sister, Chelsea Stallings. “What a small world we live in!” I thought to myself.
In college, Nick majored in kinesiology and minored in Spanish. He enjoyed working at Mardel’s Bookstore but, understandably, he wanted to put his college degree to use. I told him I was a retired Spanish teacher and that I loved teaching for Artesia Public Schools. I also let him know that there probably would be a high school Spanish job open in the foreign language department and encouraged him to apply. I wrote down the names and telephone numbers of Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton, as well as names and numbers of other administrators from the district. Nick told me, “I am going to keep this and I am going to call and get an application. I’m also going to talk to Koby.” I encouraged him to do so. After Nick finished the imprinting, we concluded our conversation and paid for our purchases. When we left, I told Kent about the conversation and quickly forgot about the encounter.
One day in June, Thadd Phipps, Assistant Superintendent of Operations, called me and, as always, teasing me in that Thad Phipps tone (he was my student twice and then my boss) he said, “Mrs. Bratcher, we need a Spanish teacher.” I didn’t say a word, not sure at what he was asking. A minute later he laughed and said he had a young man in his office that said he had met me in Lubbock. Nick still had that piece of paper in his hand. Imagine my surprise! But there was still a secret that Nick hadn’t told me—something that I found out later about him that made me want to share his story.
The Making Of An Olympian
If you haven’t met Spanish teacher and assistant cross country Coach Nick Rivera, you need to. Nick is an interesting young teacher who loves to set goals and achieve them. From a high school track team in California, to the Texas Tech cross country and track team, to the United States National Olympic Track team trials as an 800m runner, Nick has built quite a resume of running experience. But it wasn’t easy.
Nick lived with his mom in California during the school year but on holidays and during summers he stayed in Lovington where his dad lived. His mom is of Mexican descent and his dad is Puerto Rican and Mexican. Nick was mostly bored in school, but after getting involved in running — it gave him something for which to work. Having grown up in a rough neighborhood, he had no mentor outside of school, so he developed a desire to continue with school and find a way to help others. He grew up surrounded by tough kids, so now he wants to be a light to others—to help direct them the right way. His ultimate desire is to help kids and share God’s message.
After Nick’s sophomore year in high school, the distance coach asked him to try out for the cross country team. He hesitated because he usually ran the 800m, the indoor mile, and the 1500m. However, the coach convinced him to try and he found that he really liked it. He loved running outside with basically no constraints, so he opted to continue and the distance coach became his new coach. A runner at heart, he also continued to run the shorter races. That distance coach ended up being a positive influence in young Nick’s life. School wasn’t enough, he said, and if there hadn’t been running, he would have never hung on and gone to college. His hard work landed him a scholarship to Texas Tech University, where he met his Artesia friends. Today he is known locally as Coach Rivera.
The Summer Olympic Games draw millions of viewers, anxious to watch elite athletes compete in everything from sand volleyball, to swimming, diving, canoeing, and track and field events. It’s easy to get caught up in imagining what it must be like to compete at that level, but what many don’t realize, however, is the amount of time and effort that goes into achieving that level of play. Olympic athletes practice from 20-40 hours per week, depending on the sport, and the majority of them compete in individual competitions and races leading up to the Olympics, the Pan-American Games, or the NACAC—North American Central American Caribbean Games.
In 2013, Coach Rivera was a freshman in college and he was motivated to train for the United States National Championship Track team in the 800m. The trials were held in Des Moines, Iowa at Drake University. He finished in the top two with a time that allowed him to participate in the 800m for Team USA in the National Games in Medellin, Columbia in 2013, where he placed fifth. To make the International Olympic Team, runners have to place in the top three spots and achieve the Olympic Standard.
As the son and grandson of Puerto Rican descent, competing in the International Olympics for the Puerto Rican team had long been one of Nick’s dreams. To his delight, a recruiter from the Puerto Rican Olympic team called his father in November of 2016, trying to get in touch with Nick about joining team Puerto Rico. His plan was to run in the National Championship held in Puerto Rico in May 2018, but as he was heavy into training, he hurt a tendon in his ankle that would not heal. His dream of once again running would have to wait for a little while longer. Nick admitted, “This past track season was really, really tough, and I had a hard time getting myself motivated again after the injury.” However, Coach Rivera is already preparing for the NACAC—North American Central American Caribbean Games in July/August of 2019 which will be held in Lima, Peru.
As a coach, he is able to run with the cross country team as part of his training to keep himself in shape. But, I was curious to see what other techniques the coach uses to train for some of the “races of a lifetime.” He says he usually trains seven days a week. A runner recovers his body by doing distance runs after intense speed development of track workout training. On Mondays, he does distance runs. Tuesdays follow with a strength track workout; Wednesdays come back with a distance/”recovery run.” Thursday brings on another distance run, and Friday follows with a tempo run. Saturdays are basically for speed development, while Sunday ends the week with a 10-14 mile long run.
Nick stays injury free by stretching, working his core, and massages before and after a run so that he can be training at 100%. Training is not the only key to winning a race. He, like most athletes, believes that it is very important for him to be vigilant about what he eats. He likes to cook what he eats in order to “put back the calories that I have lost, but also to eat the correct amount of carbs to continue to have the energy the next day and the right amount of protein to make my muscles recover.” He typically eats grilled chicken, vegetables, and rice—all as good sources for protein. He also likes grilled chicken marinara pasta for the proteins and carbs so that he can to train the next day.
Coach Rivera hopes that one day he will be able to meet the Olympic Standard and place within the top three. Every year there are different international meets where team USA competes and an athlete has the opportunity to run and achieve his or her best times. Whether it is the Pan-American Games, the NACAC Games, the World Championships, or the Olympics, each competition is designed to test and challenge each contestant. He realizes that he will be tested, but whatever the outcome, all he wants is for “God to be honored and glorified in all he does, whether the situation is good or bad.” He knows that life is full of bumpy roads and losses, but also some wins and accolades. Through it all he wants to be an inspiration to those around him to “help kids and share God’s message.”