EASTERN HANCOCK — It’s going to be difficult, giving up coaching, something he’s done for decades and loves, but Gary Powers doesn’t have a choice.
Battling Parkinson’s disease is taking its toll and needs his full attention.
Powers, 63, of Charlottesville, doesn’t want people to worry about him or feel sorry for his plight. He knows how to deal with life’s hard challenges and will adjust, he said.
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Still, no one can blame him for being somewhat melancholy.
For the first time in more than two decades, the long-time Eastern Hancock girls track and cross-country middle school and girls assistant basketball high school coach will not be coaching a team.
In October of 2008 Powers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and retired in 2009 as the director of custodial services after 32 years at the district, but he still was employed at the district as a coach.
Powers was set to begin his 24th year of working with student-athletes this fall, but he had to inform district officials a couple of weeks ago that health issues will forbid him from taking on the responsibility.
Accepting the reality of not being able to work on a daily basis with students hurt, Powers said.
“It’s very hard on me to do this,” Powers said, fighting back tears. “But, the Parkinson’s, it’s starting to wear on my body, and I had to do it for my sake and my family.”
Having to tell district officials he could no longer coach teams was one of the most difficult things he’s had to do, Powers said.
Aaron Spaulding, Eastern Hancock athletics director, didn’t like hearing the news, but understood. He’ll miss having Powers, his positive outlook and upstanding character influencing the students.
Powers has been an inspiration to young and old alike in the district, pushing forward despite his diagnosis nine years ago.
“Anytime you don’t allow an illness such as that defeat you, then that’s a being a great role model,” Spaulding said.
Spaulding plans to let Powers come in and help out during meets and games whenever he feels up to it.
This past Saturday, Powers came out to the middle school cross-country invitational to encourage and support the Eastern Hancock middle school team as a spectator from the sidelines.
Being a cheerleader isn’t a bad role, he said, but he’ll always be a coach, wanting to jump in and offer advice when he can.
A couple of weeks ago the middle school cross-country team made T-shirts with “Finish Strong for Gary” on the back to show their support and give thanks for all he’s done.
“It makes me feel very honored,” Powers said.
Powers, a 1971 Eastern Hancock graduate and former two-sport athlete, has increased Rock Steady Boxing workouts from two to four times a week to help combat the Parkinson’s disease, he said.
Despite the difficulties he’s battling now, Powers is relying on his faith and family to pull him through and believes he will one day be healed.
“You can’t ever give up,” Powers said, “You’ve got to keep striving and fighting and never give up.”
His wife of 17 years, Deidre Powers, knows her husband will deeply miss coaching young students. He has a way of working with and inspiring young people and was able to motive middle-school aged students, something that can sometimes be difficult to do, she said.
His wife sees the determination on her husband’s face each and every day and admits the decision he made to stop coaching to tackle his disease head-on is tough.
“Every day is a real struggle,” she said. “He sometimes has to go off by himself and give himself a little pep talk.”
Now that he no longer has the stress of coaching a team on a daily basis, his family, which consists of two adult children and two adult stepchildren, hopes Powers can relax more, take more naps and focus on getting better, his wife said.
It’s been hard to admit he can’t coach anymore, Powers and his wife said, but facing the facts is something he’s always taught his athletes to do, as is fighting to change things, when they can.
It’s advice he’s taking to heart now as he competes against the biggest challenge of his life, he said.