This year, I signed up for a triathlon. I was woefully out of shape and wanted to return to a reasonable state of fitness. I was pretty confident that I could handle the bike ride and the swim, but where I really struggled was in the run. When I ran, I gasped for air, flailing with each step. I was not a runner. In fact, I despised running. Fortunately, I had the best coach ever.
She was friendly, encouraging, always willing to listen, and, most importantly, she made running feel fun. She never raised her voice and she never pushed me to go faster or harder. In fact, you might say she was the laziest coach in the world. Yet, her mere presence was enough to motivate you to run around the track one more time. You see, my running coach is a cat.
Meet Coach Tabitha*. Tabitha is like the neighborhood matriarch who keeps kids from getting into trouble through her behavior — a special brand of tough love. She’s a fixture in the community. Actually, a more accurate description would be to say that Tabitha is a fixture at the local running track — literally.
I first met Tabitha while out for a midmorning run. I began my workout with a quick trot around the track. As I rounded the first turn, much to my surprise, I came face to face with a fluffy gray cat lying right in the middle of my lane. As I headed toward her, I wondered whether she would move.
Nope, she didn’t budge. I danced gingerly around her and after I passed, I kept turning back to see if the cat was still there. Was it just a strange coincidence that there happened to be a cat sitting on the track just as I ran by?
The next lap confirmed that it wasn’t pure chance. My cat coach was still sitting there. And on the next lap, and the next lap, and the next one …
For the entire time I was training for my triathlon, I saw Coach Tabitha at the track. Sometimes she’d glance up, but most of the time she’d keep a low profile. Every time I saw her, she was planted at exactly the same curve.
The only time she moved was when I tried to take her picture. I ran to my car to get my iPad and when I came back, Tabitha had waltzed away. She was busy rubbing up against a nearby parked car. A man walking his dog noticed my consternation and asked if it was my car.
"No," I replied disappointedly, "I was just trying to take a picture of the cat." Maybe it was my interest in the cat that inspired him to confide to me, "My dog used to play with her when she was a kitten."
It was such a weird experience that I mentioned it to my friend Liz. She exclaimed, "Was that at the Maple* track? I used to see the cat there all the time when I was training for my event a few years ago."
A few years ago? That piqued my curiosity. How long had Tabitha been frequenting the local track? I started digging around and when I did, the stories came pouring in. Local runners shared their experiences:
Tabitha was also surrounded by an air of mystery. Women in my running group commented:
Another woman, having heard all the stories about Tabitha, exclaimed, "I so want to meet this cat now."
One day, I stopped to pet Tabitha and to see whether she’d let me take a closer look at the silver tag on her collar. What mysteries might it reveal about her?
The tag said, "I AM NOT LOST" and had a phone number.
I toyed with the idea of calling Tabitha’s owners to ask about her, but then realized I liked the mystery. It was as if Coach Tabitha belonged to no one but shared her grace and motivating nature with everyone.
*Names and locations have been changed for privacy reasons. We love our Coach Tabitha and don’t want the paparazzi to scare her away.
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About the Author: Holly Tse is a green cat expert, lifelong environmentalist, and now a runner. Practicing Taoist and Dragon Spirit Guide who has experienced more than nine past lives and can bend reality at will. Totally into alternative healing, but her Achilles’ heel is reality TV cooking shows. As a Canadian expat, she uses an American spellchecker for her Catster articles.