There is a woman who has had a great impact on my life. Besides my mother, who is hands down the greatest creation God has ever made, this is the next woman I treasure dear in my heart. To know anything about me, you have to know this woman and what she did for me.
I was an easily frightened 18 year old traveling down the coast of California when I first met Coach Taylor. Coach Taylor was the young, new coach at California State University Stanislaus. With the biggest smile and joy in her eyes she fully took the twin and I under her wing.
When most coaches laughed or hung up on us when we were trying to find a college to run for, Coach Taylor and Kim Duyst (Associate AD/Senior Woman Admin) saw potential in us scrawny Alaskan runners.
You see, Alaska Cross Country and Track and Field is no joke. Cross Country races constantly tested our abilities and pushed us harder than we’ve ever been pushed before. Alaskan runners ran through rain, winds, mud, mountains, and played the occasional game of chicken with the local moose roaming around. We always had to wear spikes, sometimes longer than nails to even get good footing.
I now know that not everyone’s cross season is like this and some people have never worn spikes!!
I also found out that us sturdy runners didn’t even compare, by race times, to the runners down in the lower 48. Yet, we had just as much heart and guts…if not more.
To put it in a way you might understand…
I am a State Cross Country Champion. My win was possibly one of the most epic races (in my eyes). It came down to two girls; one from Anchorage Christian School and myself from Seward. Every step I took, Nychele took the same. It was like we were one runner. No matter how hard she pushed, I followed. No matter how fast I sprinted down the mountainous hills of the Skyview ski trails, she easily stayed with me. We were both so tired, so spent. We had challenged each other and ourselves each step, so It came down to a sprint. My coach on the left and hers on the right of the trail. Both Screaming the same, “SPRINT NOW”. Both equally having the confidence that their girl could beat anyone in a sprint. But what do you do when you have two girls who beat everyone when it came down to a sprint…sprinting against each other? You sprint faster than you ever thought possible. You find whatever it is that moves your legs and you scream at it that it’s not over. I wanted to puke. Watching videos of it, one would think it was a 400m track race coming down to the lean at the finish. Some how I barely got out in front and crossed the line first. Puking, crying, and screaming for joy…it is to this day one of the most memorable races to me.
Denali Foldager, Seward 19:51.9
Nychele Fischetti, ACS 19.53.9
And we were the fast runners?! Don’t even get me started on track times. Track in Alaska is mainly shoveling snow off the track and waiting for the first school to have at least five lanes open completely to hold a meet. Alaskan runners are some of the toughest kids I know and they are also some of the most overlooked and overshadowed. Unless you are Trevor Dunbar or the girls of West Valley, it was unlikely that big schools back in the day even thought of recruiting out of Alaska.
This has all changed since 2008 though, which has been such a great thing to witness over the years.
She had her hands full from the beginning. Rubye and I were good, but damn that Californian heat dug us in. I felt like no matter what, I was melting. It also didn’t help that California was having one of their hottest cross country seasons. I felt like a failure and that I didn’t belong on the team. I was a nobody and that was something I was not used to. But everyday the runs got a little easier and I slowly began to fall in love with Turlock and Coach Taylor’s program. I was on a team full of personality, there was just a huge age gap. There were the 5th and true seniors, a transfer, and a handful of freshmen. The team was spilt perfect, the ones who had been coached by Kim and the ones who were Coach Taylor’s kids. I believe it was a learning experience for both athletes and coach. Needless to say we had one heck of a fun year!
By the end of my freshman year I found my strength on the track. I had always been a cross country runner, but for the first time in my life I got to fully experience a true track season. In high school I was a state champion in the 300 hurdles, so naturally I tried the 400 hurdles. That quickly ended…Steeple was the next best thing. Coach Taylor was an expert at the 800/1500; multiple all-americans and running for the Nike Farm Team that was based in Palo Alto (Stanford). Coach Taylor was the most decorated athlete I had ever met. She was my hero right from the start.
So…We have a 800/1500 specialist, teaching kids how to steeple. This is where Coach Jon George and Martin Ramos came in. These two guys were natural Steeplers. They taught three boys and one girl how to water pit jump and ATTACK the barriers on the lawn in front of the dorms. Nervous as she was, Coach allowed a group of us “steeplers” the chance show off at the Chico Invite. And by showing off, we all eventually got hurt. But as steeplers, we were determine to do great things! I ran one more steeple that year, Cal/Neva Championships at UCLA. I was shy off my goal of breaking 12mins and Coach had me return to the 1500 for the rest of the year.
By the end of my freshman year…I was a steeple chaser (12:02 PR) with a 4:55 1500 under my belt. Proof I had speed, we just needed to find a way to tap into it. And I wasn’t done with the steeplechase. Whether Coach Taylor thought so or not.
Sophomore year was one for the books.
I was her first girl to get All-Conference honors in cross country (top 15) (I was closer to last in the whole race the year before)
Though I didn’t make it to Nationals in Cross country, I was hungry for it. That winter I trained so hard and followed every word Coach spoke. I wanted it so bad and Coach could see that. Still a 800/1500 specialist coaching steeplers, we took my speed and tried to combine that with my natural ability to dance over the barriers. I ran a whole indoor season and a good portion of outdoor before Coach finally gave in to my requests to steeple again.
Her words, “If you get hurt in this race (my 2010 steeple debut) you’re done.”
I knew I was a steepler…I knew I had to prove it to her. She never gave up on me, but she was right…why waste talent if it could be used in another event?
The race: Cal/Neva Championships UCLA
Past: 12:02 disappointing race, ending my steeplechase career that season
Goal: Prove I was a Steepler
Ranked 11th in the start line up
1) Denali Foldager 10:57.00
2) Brienna Morris (Division 1) 11:12.99
A PR that knocked everyone off their socks! 65 second PR
The race was epic, of course. The teen kid’s choice awards after party was in a tent by the back stretch of the track. The bodyguards watching were placing bets and all I remember was Rubye and other teammates screaming “Go for the blonde, #11”. I was embarrassed but I also loved the attention. During the race with every water pit jump I stretched my lead. I had never ran this fast and felt this good. I just heard Coach screaming her most used phrase…
“PERFECT, PERFECT, PERFECT”
It was a one man show that night on the blue track and the teammates that stayed to watch defiantly were entertained. I was a no body and I had no business running that fast, it was one of those moments…who the hell is this chick?
Well I not only won, I did something I thought would never happen… I hit the B standard for Nationals. NATIONALS! The place where the best get to go. The club that only top 15-20 in the nation get into and I had just made the list. I was in shock for two days.
I bombed at nationals but it was a great learning experience and it made me realize that I did indeed belong on the track.
I worked harder than the year before but no one could stop what bad luck I ran into that summer and fall.
Injuries prevented me from even walking. I remember running a 14 min mile…painful 14 min mile. MRI couldn’t tell me what was wrong, doctors were confused, and that was the first time I saw fear in Coach’s eyes. Fear that we both felt…would this ever get better?
My depression got the best of me and slowly I quit going to the track and school. I found comfort in other things. Things that had never been in my life before but quickly I was addicted. I was a great actress and played it off but slowly I was falling apart and it was becoming easy for everyone to see that something wasn’t right.
I got my life back when I saw Coach cry for the first time and she was crying over me. I realize that I had just made my hero cry. I realized I needed to get my life back together. Enough was enough.
I was at peace again when I started to run. Before I knew it I was running everyday again. Before I knew it I was sprinting around the track. Before I knew it, I was able to breathe through pure lungs. Before I knew it, Coach was smiling again.
Now, Coach Taylor isn’t a hugger but I can say that through the five years I was under her wing, I remember four bear hugs. (many other hugs were received but these were the special, get over here let me squeeze you hugs)
1) CCAA XC Championships 2009 (All-Conference)
2) UCLA- NCAA Provisional and #5 in the nation at the time
3) 2010 Twilight meet- 10:46 to become 17th in the nation (advanced to Nationals)
….The biggest one…so far
4) 2013 Twilight Meet- One of my best friends Courtney Anderson helped me to a 10:52
– It had been since 2010 that I broke 11min for the steeple
– Though still have not had an official track PR since 2010
My dear friend Dawson was announcing and the whole track team was there. I did it..I finally ran like Denali.
-Coach Taylor Cried -Coach Sally Cried -Everyone cried
For the first time since 2010, I felt like I was a runner again and I was proud of myself.
The whole 2013 track season was an emotional roller coaster. I would prove I was ready in practice but freeze when it came time to race. I couldn’t forgive myself for what I had done, what I gave up…what I walked away from. If It wasn’t for the support of my best friends (teammates) and great coaching, I wouldn’t be running today. I put so much pressure on myself but Coach didn’t. Coach knew I would find my way. For me, time wasn’t an issue. I was a senior and this was all I had left, there wasn’t much more we could do. It was all up to me and she allowed me that freedom. But she was still there for me, every step of the way. Every meltdown, hospital visit, or just a bad workout…she, like I, was frustrated but knew there was hope.
She never gave up so no way in hell was I going to.
I ended my college career where I left it back in 2010, at nationals. I didn’t advance to the finals and I also fell for the second time in my life. (first time was when Coach Jon made me hurdle with my weak leg)
Yep, right in the water pit jump for all to see and take photos. But I did get back up and I passed one girl before crossing the line, running into my trainer’s arms for help.
Gary our trainer was a huge help that day. I was so disappointed and hurt. I mean I hit my head, scrapped my knees and legs, and still finished. The last three laps were pure pain and I just heard Gary scream “I’m here Denali. I’ll be there when you finish.” I was crying not because I hurt, but because he cared so much about me. I forever am thankful for his kindness and father like protection during that whole week. Actually I’m forever thankful for everyone that week. I was just proud I got to show my mother that her princess was okay and running again.
Coach Taylor never gave up on me. Never Never Never. She should have, I would have. But no…every day I would get texts from her telling me she believed in me and she never for a second thought otherwise. I was her first national qualifier but not her last. She has built a program full of ALL-AMERICANS. A dream we each shared and I have never been more proud to be a Warrior.
The last three years were hard for both of us, but both of us knew…deep down…that I had it in me to defeat any demons and get back to the track. That it took a special kind of strength to return to what I had given up.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit. But for every time I tried to quit, Coach Taylor got me to stay.
“PERFECT, PERFECT, PERFECT”