I stepped back in time nearly 25 years and traveled 3,000 miles to get reacquainted with a teacher who changed my life, by teaching me to believe in myself.
Del Campo High School, in Fair Oaks, Calif., looked a lot like it did when I was a student there.
The cafeteria looked and smelled the same way it did almost 25 years ago!
What kind of student was I? That's easy: I was one of the jocks.
It took me a long time to grow into my body because I had incredibly long legs and didn't know what to do with them. And so finding sports, or sports finding me, was a good fit.
I've never been a graceful person, and I'm never going to be a graceful person, but when I was on the track running hurdles, that was about as close to grace as I got.
It was on the Del Campo track that I had some of my finest athletic achievements, competing in the 100-meter hurdles and the high jump and long jump. And much of my success was due to a teacher who believed in me and truly inspired me.
Her name is Irene Swope.
She taught physical education and her lessons, from practical skills to believing in yourself, have stayed with me all these years.
She instilled in me a lifelong love of exercise.
But I also think it's important to have an adult other than your parent believe in you, be solidly behind you, and that was Mrs. Swope to me. She believed I could conquer the world.
"Rene stood out because of her enthusiasm for life and her smile," Swope said. "She had the most beautiful smile. She was ready to do anything."
And in Swope's class, Syler remembered, that meant instruction in different "units," consisting in every activity imaginable.
"I ran the gamut," Swope said. "Volleyball, football with freshmen, tennis, archery. I taught yoga. I taught disco. And then all of a sudden disco died. I mean after "Saturday Night Fever," it died. And kids didn't want to do it anymore.
Swope retired in 1991.
But seeing her again was just like old times.
"My special, favorite student! 24 years ago!" Swope exclaimed.
"Wait, was it 24 years ago?" I asked. "Let's not rush it, I think it was more like 23 years ago!"
She had always been my favorite teacher. And it was a thrill to learn she thought of me as one of her favorite students.
"You know," Swope says, "I have to tell you the class in 1981 will always live in my heart as my favorite, favorite class.
"You (Syler) were always this enthusiastic young lady and such a joy to have as a student. Every teacher should have a student like you."
"Well," I repsonded, "I think every student should have a teacher like you."
A teacher who teaches from the heart, who truly cares, can bring out the best in any student, at any age.
To have Mrs. Swope or someone like her as a role model is important. She taught me ... that life was about being a participant and life was a full-contact sport and to get out there and go for it. ...And it's something that's stuck with me for all these years."
I just wanted to say a very special thank you to Mrs. Swope. She's a really great lady.
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