Every morning Thos Trefz writes a quote on the blackboard that hangs over his room. Quotes are all over his Instagram and T-shirts; they are layered throughout his coaching lessons. Any of the runners that frequent his room could tell you about all the times Thos has used a quote to help them push through their pain or stress. But one afternoon, as students gathered in the Welcome Center, instead of telling his athletes about the workout plan or the lifting routine, Trefz shared his diagnosis of testicular cancer.
“It was surreal how he was reacting to it,” Izzy Jones ‘19 said. “Honestly, I don’t know how he was so strong about it. He was wearing a shirt that said, ‘Run Happy,’ and then he told us, ‘Okay, today we’re going to run happy.’”
Trefz is now the fourth coach on the girls running team to be diagnosed with cancer, but for him, the process was a much shorter ordeal. Only 27 days after his diagnosis and following a successful surgery, his CT scans came back clean. Now, three months later, Trefz is cancer-free, and has just returned to running with his athletes.
“That’s been head-spinning. I don’t think I’ve come to grips with the fact that I had cancer,” Trefz said. “When I struggled with depression two years ago, that really clued me in to all the support I had and that people really cared about me whether I coached or not. Whether it would be friends and family, this school, the track team, in particular that mid-distance/distance group, I knew those people were going to be there for me. For me, not so much my doctor, that was part of my treatment plan.”
In many ways, coaching is one of the most important things in Trefz’s life, and he credits the relationships he has been able to build with students over the years as what makes it so rewarding. Back in 2003, with no experience running or coaching, he reached out to the late Coach Raffensperger to see if there was an opening.
“I like running. It can seem like a pretty individualistic and selfish endeavor, so I think I was looking for some way to contribute to a community,” Trefz said.
And he has. Over the past two decades, Trefz has become a fixture not only in the Welcome Center, but in the running community of City High. He’s coached dozens of girls who have gone on to run collegiately, and has seen his runners set, achieve, but just as often fail to make big goals.
“Big goals are great and I’ve had a lot of girls who’ve had really high goals for themselves,” Trefz said. “Lots of those girls haven’t reached those goals however, but because they committed themselves every day they didn’t walk away disappointed.”
Like many female runners, Jones found herself slowing as she grew older and became frustrated with how well she was doing. Her times did not compare to freshman year, so she reached out to Trefz.
“He helped me appreciate that I can still run for fun and try my best instead of focusing on being the best,” Jones said. “Instead, I can focus on being my version of my best.”
As much as his athletes will tell you about all that Trefz has given back to his community and all that he has taught them about running, he claims that in fact, it is the athletes who have taught him.
“I always think that if the girls learn a tenth of what they teach me, that would be incredible,” Trefz said. “You can get a grasp of the Xs and Ox of coaching from reading books but it’s those relationships with athletes that really teach you how to become a coach.”
Trefz has been Jones’s athlete since before freshman year, and she remembers how hard it was to see an adult she looked up to be diagnosed.
“On the day he left for his surgery, he was so scared, and it was really hard to see someone I look up to like that,” Jones said. “I’ve never seen him be scared. Usually, it’s me being scared at the beginning of my race, scared of the pain I’m going to go through. He always says, ‘It’s going to be okay. You’ll be done and be proud of yourself.’ Thos has taught me it’s okay to be scared and accept that you’re scared.”
This story was originally published on The Little Hawk on April 30, 2019.