BRATTLEBORO -- Mid-September. Tuesday. Six a.m.
The sun is still 40 minutes from rising, and the air has turned cold and damp, fallen leaves sticking to the Brattleboro Union High School running track like hopeful confetti.
Out of the semi-darkness, 20 people in sweats and shorts, armed with water bottles and running shoes, coalesce on the track.
Really, they are emerging from cars, hopping off bikes, or walking up the road from South Main Street, not appearing by mystical convergence of universal life energies.
They are here to run -- to train -- with Hank Lange of Brattleboro, a multisport athlete, triathlon coach and personal health, wellness and fitness coach. He has been
But in the pre-dawn quiet light, before the dozens of daily duties demand attention, when the only thought is of moving your body one more step, one longer step, one dash or one turn more, and your breath is a powerful, puffing affirmation that you are achingly alive, and Hank is bellowing, kindly, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all!" and all that matters is now ....
Then 6 a.m. on a Tuesday morning at the BUHS track can feel a lot like magic, like your life is touched with clarity and grace (and, yes, burning quads).
Hank Lange has encouraged and experienced this gift of physical movement over and over again in his work as a coach and athlete.
His smile is very wide, very precise, his sentences swimming one after another in the current of his thoughts. That current is at once smooth and brisk and deep, encompassing a lifetime of intensive study and practice in, and enthusiasm for, athletic endeavor. It is the movement of the dedicated, intelligent pursuit of excellence.
Hank, who has worked with both Olympic-caliber triathletes and people looking to improve their fitness and well-being, began coaching in Brattleboro in 1977.
"I moved to the area to take a job with the U.S. Ski Association," he says. "Essentially, I drove around in a van with several of the great skiers of the time, and we taught people all over New England and the Midwest how to cross-country ski. It was a wonderful way to introduce the sport."
A native of Niskayuna, N.Y., Hank had visited Windham County as a high school student to compete in cross-country ski events.
"I remember being on the trails in Putney, looking out and thinking, ‘Boy, there are a lot of hills out here!'" He laughs. "And thinking, ‘Will I ever finish this race?' And then, of course, along came Tim Caldwell and Bill Koch, skiing as if the hills were nothing."
He chuckles again at the memory. "But it was a very positive experience and a great opportunity," he says, characteristically recalling the challenges as generous chances to learn and grow.
He continued competing as an undergraduate at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and after graduation coached skiing at Bates College in nearby Lewiston.
"I knew pretty early
As an athlete, Hank competed intensely, winning nine triathlons, as well earning the New England Ironman title at the 1982 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championships. He coached many others to peak performance, in 2007 earning the Elite Coach of the Year designation from the USAT National Coaching Commission.
His methods combined the latest in sports science and psychology, along with best coaching practices, in order to train the athlete in his or her development as a whole person, not just a highly-specialized body preparing for an event.
"That concept, of looking at athletes beyond the Olympics or the triathlon or race, is also incorporated into my coaching business, Personal Best," Hank explains. He speaks quickly, with disciplined yet relaxed energy. "Yes, a person might want to improve their time on a run, or lose weight, or build endurance, but it's happening in the context of their home life, their business life."
He shifts in his chair. "A triathlon is really a series of transitions. I help coach people to move with and through transitions. How to adapt, how to work with stress. How to eat and get enough sleep! It's fascinating work, whether it's an elite athlete or simply a dedicated runner."
Accomplished in his field, deeply involved in his community of skiers and runners and swimmers, Hank is turning his attention and enthusiasm to a larger societal problem: the loss of physical movement as a natural, enjoyable and crucially important part of daily life.
"I'm thinking a great deal these days about how to work with the community here in Brattleboro, not just as a solo coach, to make sports and physical activity accessible to all levels of athletic ability," he says. "Too many times, kids are asked to focus on one sport far too early, or there aren't opportunities for kids who aren't going to be elite athletes to continue to play. But everyone has the capacity to play."
Physical movement affects how kids learn, how their brains develop, how they will perform in school. In the face of ever-expanding technology that isolates and in essence immobilizes people, moving the body, especially outdoors, is an irreplaceable tonic and a touchstone.
"How do we help people get out and play?" he asks with a huge, serious smile. "It's so important and such sustained work to figure out how to do that in these times. That's where my mind is lately, now that my own children are either in or about to be in college."
The rain leaps and whips around the tidy house as Hank talks, as if it wants to take a few laps, run a thousand or so intervals, bike 100 miles and then swim in open water until it reaches land where, exhausted and exhilarated, it rests until Tuesday morning, 6 a.m., when the adventure will start all over again.
Hank will be there, ready to run.
Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer. To suggest people for this column, write to her at email@example.com.