Girls Cross Country

Running has brought Hebron's Emily and Mike DeFries closer as daughter and father

2012-08-31T18:00:00Z 2014-09-05T18:05:04Z Running has brought Hebron's Emily and Mike DeFries closer as daughter and fatherJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
August 31, 2012 6:00 pm  • 

Soccer, softball, basketball, track, cross country.

For as long as Emily DeFries has been playing sports, there's always been a dad-coach connection with her father Mike.

"I don't know it any other way," she said.

Nor would the Hebron senior have it any other way, the pluses easily outnumbering the minuses.

"I love having my dad there," she said. "We were already close and it's brought us a lot closer. Sometimes it's hard having him as a coach, telling me what to do. At home, I feel like I can say no. The good side is, I live with him and he won't let me miss a day. I can say whatever I want to him where any other coach, I wouldn't."

A prime example was Emily's first high school race, the North White Invitational.

"She was still figuring out if she wanted to do high school cross country," said Mike, who became the Hebron coach as Emily began to run in middle school. "The first time out of the woods, I said, 'Hey, looking good!' She said it was going to be the only race she'd ever run and she was quitting afterward."

Mike kept his distance from the finish line. Eventually, Emily sought him out.

"She came over and said, 'I love you, Daddy,'" Mike said. "I told her, 'I know you do.'"

Even with the occasional bump on the path, Mike knows it's something he's going to miss next year.

"It's going to be pretty tough," he said. "We're always talking back and forth. I bounce stuff off her. I've got two daughters. People would ask me if I wanted a little boy. I'd say, 'No, I've got Emily.' I mean it in a good way. I'd go watch her in middle school and couldn't wait until she was in high school, running for me. Now I can't imagine it without her. I'm not sure what I'll do."

Older sister Hillary ran in middle school, a big reason Emily got into running, but didn't play sports otherwise, focusing on dancing. Emily, in turn, tried about everything at some point, and was usually coached by Mike. In cross country, it's a package deal. Mom Joanna, also a Hebron teacher, is assistant coach.

"It's really been fun for me to see as a coach and parent," Joanna said. "Emily's driven to succeed. The kids seem to gravitate to her. She's our youngest, so this is it. In every way, I'm trying to cherish every minute this year."

The same goes for Emily, whose commitment level has risen dramatically.

"It was always basketball, basketball," Mike said. "She ran cross country because she had to. Now she's a cross country runner who plays basketball, even though she's a starter. It's always been tough for her. She worked 40 hours a week this summer and was playing basketball at the same time. But this year, she decided to put in the mileage no matter what."

The difference has been marked for Emily, who must also manage low blood sugar. A fringe scorer in past seasons, she has been one of Hebron's top two runners in each of its races.

"Everyone was always telling me, 'If you run in the summer, you'll be good,'" she said. "I can't just run. Every time I run, I tell myself I have to make it worth something."

The only senior in Hebron's top group, Emily's not lacking for motivation. The Hawks missed advancing from the regional by three points last fall. If Emily makes all-Porter County Conference, she'll become the first Hawk to do so every year from sixth to 12th grade.

"I want my last year to be a year to remember," she said. "You run all that, you want to get something out of it. What happened last year, it made me try harder. Our team is so close. Everyone's best friends. We do everything together. We all push each other. I want to go further for them. I tell them every day my best senior present would be to go to semistate. It would mean everything."

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