Michael McBane won the Emory University Cross Country Coach's Award after the first semester of his junior year. There are countless nuances and stories I can tell - but they all boil down to one reason - that he was a great leader, as well as the heart and soul of our team. Many looked to him as a mentor, or at least someone most people on the team looked - someone they could talk to.
As a runner, he was individually accomplished, running personal records of 4:00 in the 1500 meters, 4:19 in the mile, and 25:27 in the 8000 meters. But it was what he helped bring out of the rest of the guys, as a spiritual leader of the team that should define the mark he made on Emory Cross Country.
It's impossible to quantify how many seconds various people on our team have run faster because of his role, but he always helped others gain awareness of various struggles they had as runners or in their personal lives. When I think of McBane, it's his "no bullshit" and honest demeanor that comes to mind - something that brought relief to every conversation. I'm even surprised he agreed to do this article - I didn't think he'd want the exposure. At the end of the day, though, it really boiled down to one thing:
McBane is good with people and he got every person to believe they were able to be better.
As such, it's more appropriate to talk about the person, rather than the runner. Currently, he is a high school math teacher at Forest Park High School under Teach For America (TFA). When speaking of his future after TFA, McBane was uncertain, as many people are.
"I've never really known what I wanted to do, and I still don't know," McBane said. "I like being a teacher though so this may be for the long haul. It also could very well not be. Time will tell."
As his roommate his senior year, I can tell that he was beyond passionate about the job, planning his interview answers and lesson plans much farther in advance of when he needed to start them. An economics and history double major, in the summer of 2016, he was an intern at Wealthy Habits, a financial literacy program for metro-Atlanta students.
Right now, as a teacher for TFA, McBane has found his experience the past couple of months incredibly rewarding, but intense.
"So many things are rewarding," McBane said. "So many things are sad/tough to hear, so many days are miserably difficult...it's honestly a bit overwhelming at times. "
For him, the most gratifying part of the job is when students come in to see him after school for tutoring. Since McBane is pretty good with people, some students come in just to hang out with him, which he is OK with.
"I try to secretly get them to do math," he says. "Most of the time, it's me drilling them on multiplication while we shoot paper balls into a trash can or box. One of the biggest deficits in these schools is what I will call 'head math' - stuff you should be able to do in your head (like 7+8, 6x4, etc.)."
"So I try to get my students who come to tutoring to practice the material we learned during the day and practice with 'head math.'"
"I wanted to do TFA because I really care about inequities in our world, and in education specifically."
Criticism for TFA ranges far and deep - accusing it of dropping young and idealistic college graduates into underperforming schools, and that it is destroying the public education system by replacing experienced educators with inexperienced college graduates.
McBane conceded that he isn't the best representative of TFA because he doesn't buy into much of its idealism.
"I really don't believe that 'one day, every child will have equal access to quality education.' The inequities run a little too deep."
But he did have something to say about the criticism, as someone that actually is teaching in an underperforming school in the trenches.
"However, I believe in the organization and I believe in the work. There's a lot of criticism, and people who beef with TFA have legitimately zero experience in these types of schools," he said. "I can't name a school in my county that isn't understaffed. If nothing else, TFA is putting quality, college-educated adults in schools that could literally just use some more bodies."
One thing that has truly prepared McBane for his life as a teacher at Forest Park is his career as a college runner. For him, everything in life after being a Cross Country and Track athlete feels easier.
"Being a runner is a full-time job; it's pretty fucking all-consuming. For instance, I used to stress about how much sleep I got, what I ate, and was still always tired from grinding out workouts and long runs."
"Now I sleep way less, and have a worse diet, but have about the same amount of energy, although I lost the abs," he said. "So I'd say the short answer is it helped me gain the kind of 'grit' you need in order to be a successful teacher."
McBane made sure not to take credit for any accomplishment he himself has had, but rather to credit his ability to persevere through struggles to the people in his life. Last January, I can distinctly remember when he proposed to his girlfriend, Marissa, in the middle of a run.
"There are too many people to thank," he said. "Marissa, my parents, my brother, and my amazing friends."
"However, I'd like to give a special shout-out to my mom and dad though," he said. "They've lived such a generous and selfless life, even in times where they didn't have much to give, and I think that has always made me want to be a better person."
He had some advice to impart, partially as a teacher but also as a person:
"Be a good person, and be comfortable being uncomfortable. Don't take yourself too seriously. Use cliches less. Keep on keepin' on. When you fail, try and try again."
But I'd be remiss to not talk a bit about what McBane has taught me as a person. His mentality and demeanor show that he has passion and heart for everything he does and believes in, something I always try to carry with me.
Some would think that makes him hot-headed. One topic of conversation he's especially ardent about is the environment. Question him about fossil fuels or the perils of capitalism, or ask him to cite a quote from Naomi Klein's "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate," and he will argue with zeal about his beliefs and the facts behind them. No matter what you believe, how passionate he is about what he believes is something to look up to.
In addition, in the two years that I have known McBane, something he does is pick up on minor details that no one else seems to notice. Whether it was someone on our team's attitude towards running or how their upbringing determined their political beliefs, McBane provided a sense of support and validation for each person to have faith in themselves. In fact, my favorite McBane line that brings anyone into a conversation is,
"Well, what do you think?"
As such, one thing I know he is especially good at is getting people to believe in themselves. Whether it's kids or his teammates, he catalyzes in a confidence in people to do things they didn't think they could before. Much of this is through noticing a lot of previously unnoticed details about a person and then talk about it with them.
I knew I enjoyed writing articles, but I was previously always a bit cautious and trod carefully depending on what other people thought. Partially as a result of his influence and encouragement, he noticed that I put a lot of work into each and every one, and eventually, I stopped caring if someone didn't like my writing or my opinions. I started to shift towards writing about the people in my life that I owe to put me where I am now, a decision that I have no regrets about.
“Every day I ran with Mikey was not a day of training. It was a day of smooth conversation, brotherly competition, growing relation, or all three. When we trained together, we didn't think of an end goal. We always enjoyed training for the pointlessness of it - the beauty of exhausting ourselves for no other reason than showing we could," said friend and former teammate, Shane Sullivan.