Tenacious T, an Inspiration
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Throughout the course of the 38 years that I have been coaching rowing, I have come across people from all walks of life. Some of these people come and go, but other individuals are meant to stay in your journey for longer than a season, with a greater purpose to carry out than either of you may have realized. Todd Vogt is one of these people for me. I first remember meeting him as a part of the rowing community in Portland, later he was my assistant coach at Willamette University.He was always, and still is, a positive force-always very outgoing, personable, approachable, and above all - genuine. People enjoy Todd for his light-hearted, goofy, and personable personality. He’s the type of guy, who after only meeting him one time, the next time he sees you he will remember the small intricacies of the conversation and ask about them: details about you, your family, pets, things you express - both his memory and ability to listen wholeheartedly are in my opinion one of his superpowers. To match these solid character traits, he has always put that same level of attention and care into being a serious rower.
At the age of 44, Todd was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease, one of the most terrifying diseases for an athlete, and anyone. When I found out...I could feel every fiber in my body burn and ache with sadness - I wept. In the very beginning, Todd was not sure he’d be able to row ever again. I encouraged him not to close that book just yet. Todd, with even a glimmer of hope latched onto it and rather than closing the book on rowing, he simply started a new chapter one that would unlock yet another of his superpowers - the ability to see every challenge as an opportunity of a lifetime. With his encouraging outlook on his diagnosis and learning that he met the requirements to try out for the USA Paralympic rowing team he immersed himself more than ever in achieving this dream and a one in a million chance. This gave him something to focus on and work toward after receiving the incredibly discouraging and devastating news that from this point on his brain would slowly take down the rest of his body. The excitement for this next venture soon came rushing over him and, despite having to completely relearn how to do everything due to the effects the disease would have on him, went on to make the national team, competing in Poland and Austria in 2019.
In September 2019 Todd asked me to train him for the 2020 Paralymipcs. Without a moment of hesitation, I said yes. Todd is someone I greatly respect and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would work and train hard. It’s such an immense joy to coach someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal that they set for themselves. His current goal is to work toward the Paralympics; the odds of making a national let alone Olympic team is very very difficult with every statistical odd stacked against anyone competing at this level. I knew/know that if anyone can make it this far, it is Todd. I had already retired from coaching at this point but I told him that I was willing to coach him until the Olympics in 2020. COVID-19 put a screeching halt to this, prolonging his training for an extra year.
Coaching Todd is no different than coaching any of my other athletes, except perhaps that his beast mode is at full throttle 24/7. My goal every day is to think of new ways to help him go faster, but ultimately...he is the one who’s getting up every day and making it all happen. He is the one maneuvering his shaking and trembling body, juggling doctors appointments, acclimating to new drugs and adjusting to the schedules for them, and he’s sticking to it every single day. What is also pretty admirable is that through all of this...he still takes the time to show that he truly cares about others. I may be Todd’s coach, but he’s putting in the work and dedication. I could never take an ounce of credit for any of his well-earned accomplishments.
One of the many things I appreciate about coaching Todd is that Parkinsons or no Parkinsons, I coach the same and he trains with the same intensity. It is an unspoken agreement we have, “meet me at the boathouse and we’ll work.” Like any of my other athletes, Todd has days that he is stronger in certain areas and others that need attention. I look at him and see the situation matter-of-factly; maybe that day his left hand isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to, so how do we work around that? It is my job to see the technical things he needs to improve upon, and he never misses a beat in following through on what I ask him to do. I think that’s one of the aspects that balance us out so well. I’m more down to business and help to set boundaries for him, because without them he would over train and ultimately do more harm than good. If it were up to Todd, he would never sleep, just train. I balance Todd out by giving him structure and setting boundaries, while he balances me out by bringing playfulness, enthusiasm, spirit, and joy during our time. While Todd is playful and goofy, he also exudes determination and motivation. He has a goal, a dream, and is motivated beyond all else to train both his body and mind to be ready to achieve it.
Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what inspires me the most about Todd-maybe because I feel like words won’t do him enough justice, you just have to know him to fully grasp the great human that he is. He has helped me learn to appreciate other people completely for who they are, take the time to get to know them, and be present for them. He is a daily reminder of why I enjoy coaching so much, not only because he has shown immense perseverance in the face of adversity, but also because of his dedication to both the sport of rowing and those who cross his path. His buoyant and resilient spirit has not changed even through the struggles he battles everyday. I aspire to be more like Todd...and this world would be a much more compassionate and sincere place if it had more people like him. I appreciate the opportunity to support him just as he does for everyone else who he encounters.