During a recent visit to Lanesboro, now author Robin Drake, center, visits with a high school classmate, Paul Ulrich of Rushford and his wife, Lori Ulrich, who is also a first cousin. SUBMITTED PHOTO
During a recent visit to Lanesboro, now author Robin Drake, center, visits with a high school classmate, Paul Ulrich of Rushford and his wife, Lori Ulrich, who is also a first cousin. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Everyone who is ever diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease vows to, from now on, make every day count. Not everyone is able to fulfill that vow, but Robin Drake — who grew up in Lanesboro — has certainly come close so far.
Drake, who also at one time was on the faculty at Lanesboro High School, is the son of Marge Drake and the late David Drake of Lanesboro.
His book about his experiences is appropriately titled “Coaching or Cancer: It’s All About the Team.” In this, his autobiography, it becomes apparent he has developed excellent self-insight, he has identified critical lessons he has learned from life and he has articulated the depth and importance of his relationship with his spouse JoAnn, family and friends, and with his God.
The book’s opening line is dramatic: “My name is Robin Drake, and I have cancer. Not just cancer, but stage IV lung cancer.”
His self-insight quickly becomes apparent: he said, “Most would now describe me as opinionated, a bit outspoken and set in my ways.”
Even in his description of his high school years on the Lanesboro basketball team, he has identified what he learned —and knew at the time that he was learning — from sports: even back then his experiences “prepared me for the battle I am now facing.” Those lessons provide the framework for the rest of the book.
In his four years in the U.S. Navy, Drake said he “learned discipline and how to work with others who I didn’t necessarily care about.” After experiencing other parts of the world, he recognized his deep appreciation for his own country.
Observing other coaches taught him to take “energy and passion back to the classroom and to my coaching.” He was learning to make use of opportunities to learn. It also motivated him to develop and articulate his own philosophy for the game of basketball, something he feels all head coaches should not only have but also pass on to players and parents.
Each ensuing chapter is arranged around a life lesson for each season; for his first time as head coach it was “play hard, play smart, have fun!” or summed up as industriousness.
Each life lesson is followed by a description of how he has applied this lesson to cancer, and he adds an applicable verse from the Bible.
For this first season of industriousness, he wrote he has “worked hard to understand what I am now facing and begun to plan for what is to come….I have been diligent with a persevering determination to complete the task at hand.”
The Bible verse he added was “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23 ESV).
For his final season, the lesson he articulated was “Without the unselfish support of a team, life becomes only about me—and that is a lonely existence.”
He goes on to describe the process of his diagnosis and treatments, always “grateful for the outpouring of love and support from family, friends and strangers…,” all part of his team in this next phase of his life.
His family and friends have demonstrated that support in their reaction to his book; after all, he did “lay it all out there” honestly and sometimes even bluntly.
They were a bit in awe, and proud, that he had done this and had done it so well. He names names throughout the entire book, and another question was how he could ever have remembered all of those?
His family was asked whether they felt this experience into self-insight had influenced his interaction with the rest of them. They responded that it was obvious that his faith is deeper since he has been ill, and he is very open about “there is more to life than ‘stuff’.”
His mother, Marge, added, “He has taken a long, hard look at himself” and came out even better for it.
Drake acknowledges that he had long been interested in writing a book about coaching, “but perhaps I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer.”
He realized he could tell his story, clearly identify lessons learned along the way and tie it together with his faith. In making that story available to others, maybe he could “help someone who is going into coaching or has been diagnosed with cancer to understand how life is intertwined in so many ways.”
At one point in his introspection, Drake realized, “I couldn’t stand losing.”
Knowing that has helped him in this fight, not only to keep trying but also to deal with reality. And given his deep faith, he knows that however this battle goes, he will never have lost.
Another one of his life lessons was “to make the most of what you’ve got.” This book is a testament that Drake is still doing just that. In this, the most difficult season of his life so far, he has found a way to make it positive: by passing on these lessons to others, and not just for those interested in sports.