Karl Lindholm: Travels with Missy: ‘While you can still do it’
In just my second year at Middlebury College, 1977, I visited old friend Russ Reilly in the field house. Russ was newly arrived to coach basketball at the college.
He introduced me to another new coach, a 24-year-old woman, Carson Lessels, who had come to Middlebury to lead the swimming and women’s basketball teams.
Russ coached basketball for 20 years and served as athletic director for nine more before retiring. Carson went on to coach at Middlebury for 38 years before she retired last spring.
Along the way, she won six national championships, though not in swimming and basketball (one in field hockey and five in lacrosse), and innumerable awards and honors in a legendary career. She has been elected to four Halls of Fame.
We know her better as Missy Foote — “Missy,” her nickname since birth, and “Foote” the result of her marriage to Middlebury lawyer Dick Foote in 1994.
Missy retired last year after taking her lacrosse team to yet another Final Four appearance. She left coaching even though she was at the top of her game, much respected, beloved even, by her players, and still young (compared to me anyway — 62).
Retirement is hard, especially when you have the success Missy enjoyed — and love what you’re doing as much as she did.
Many of the best-known and most successful college coaches stay on the job well into their 60s and 70s. Many others elect a “soft landing” — an administrative or coaching position with fewer demands and less pressure.
Not Missy. Cold turkey.
This week. Missy will watch the Middlebury women’s lacrosse team, now under the leadership of Kate Perine Livesay (Middlebury 2003) undertake their quest for another NCAA championship with a game on Kohn Field on Sunday.
Kate Livesay is something of a protégé. In her four years in lacrosse at Middlebury, under Missy, Kate played on three NESCAC and two national championship teams (record in four years: 64-3).
She came home to Middlebury from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where she coached for eight years. Her Trinity teams won the NESCAC title from 2011-2014 and the national championship in 2012.
Kate’s interest in returning to Middlebury certainly eased Missy’s mind about retirement. She and Kate are close.
“It’s great to go to games now,” Missy says. “There’s no pressure. I go home and don’t worry about the next game. I text Kate; we talk about games.
“Of course, I miss the camaraderie, the laughs — and I miss the problem-solving that coaching strategy demands, but there was never any basking in the glory. It was always on to the next thing, always chasing the dream.”
Missy’s greatest motivation to retire when and how she did was time, time itself.
She tells the story of her son Robert’s experience hiking the Grand Canyon 10 years ago. When he returned, full of enthusiasm, he urged her to go there too some day “while you still can!”
So Missy started to make a list, back then, a Bucket List of sorts, of things she wanted to do. “It was all travel, places I wanted to see, hikes I wanted to take,” she said.
Missy’s passion for the natural world, hardy outdoor challenges, goes back a long way. “My family camped when I was a child,” she explains. “We had a big canvas tent and would travel to some interesting place almost every summer and camp there.
“I enjoy the physical challenge of hiking, skiing, sailing, snowshoeing, and the spiritual peace that comes from immersing myself in the natural world.”
Her first retirement trip was last October hiking the National Parks in Utah — Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, for two weeks with husband Dick: “I had always wanted to see these national parks. Robbie had a picture on his wall of Bryce Canyon, and I thought, ‘It can’t possibly be that beautiful.’ But it was!”
At her retirement party last spring, Missy’s former players gave her “money and miles” (frequent-flyer miles) because they knew of her long desire to go to New Zealand.
So just last February and March, the summer Down Under, she and Dick took six weeks to explore New Zealand with backpacks and tent. “I was determined not to see it out the window.
“We did the some of the nine hikes that comprise the ‘Great Walks’ in New Zealand. We could put the tent down anywhere. We also stayed in huts that afforded shelter and water. There we met all kinds of people, young and old, from all over.”
Missy and Dick met up with her former colleague Terry Aldrich, longtime ski and cross-country coach, and his wife Beth Ann on the southernmost part of the south island at Curio Bay where they camped and saw the rare yellow-eyed penguins that reside there.
Her next major trip is this September when she will do “the Haute Route,” C to Z — Chamonix, France, (Mt. Blanc) to Zermatt, Switzerland, (the Matterhorn). “It’s really hard,” she says, “and I’m a little scared. But I need to do it.”
MISSY FOOTE, SHOWN hiking on slick rock in Canyon Lands National Park in Utah last October, has been very active since retiring last spring as a celebrated Middlebury College coach.
It’s not that she has to go that far to enjoy her “travels.” She considers Vermont and the Adirondack Park as her “playground,” and when she was coaching she loved having the Green Mountains as the backdrop to her “office” (Peter Kohn Field).
“The lakes and mountains continue to inspire me,” she says. “I don’t think I will ever tire of hiking in the Green Mountains, cross country skiing in them in the winter, and swimming and sailing in Vermont and New York’s lakes in the summer.”
It’s clear that Missy Foote is a coach, a former coach now, with miles to go before she sleeps.
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