BIDDEFORD — Biddeford High senior Abby Laverriere recalls how assistant coach Will Fulford would ride his bike alongside the 20 or so distance runners during practice, offering encouragement as if each had their own personal coach.
Madison Perry, also a senior, remembers how Fulford cared about them as individuals.
“He asked you about your friends, your grades, about college,” said Perry. “Because he was an English teacher he asked to correct my college application. I didn’t even think to ask him. It was the last thing he did for me.”
Fulford died of apparent cardiac arrest Dec. 11 while working out at a gym with his wife, Ashley Potvin-Fulford. The news shocked the Biddeford High track community, where Fulford, 29, served as a coach for cross country, indoor and outdoor track.
His death, at the start of the indoor track season, turned a sport that had been a fun, healthy outlet into an awkward and sorrowful journey for the athletes who knew Fulford best. The challenges they faced went beyond training hard and competing well. Many had to figure out how to train, how to comfort each other – and even how to help coach each other.
“Running has always been a big part of my life,” Laverriere said. “You run every day, it goes through your head a lot. I keep imagining he’ll come back, but obviously he’s not going to. I keep waiting for him to, though.”
Fulford’s death not only left a void where a friend and mentor had been, but left the 84 athletes on the boys’ and girls’ track teams down a coach. Head coach Ron Ouellette, who works primarily with sprinters and field event athletes, said there wasn’t time to hire an assistant to lead the distance runners.
“We tried to split up the team, but a lot of the distance runners didn’t get as much attention as they normally would,” said Ouellette, who has coached at Biddeford for 43 years.
Based on the workouts Fulford gave them a year earlier, the distance runners recorded their training in logs he suggested they keep, mapping their training in small groups. They also helped to coach each other at meets. They would ask teammates the times they hoped to run, just as Fulford did.
“The dynamics of the team changed,” Perry said. “I think we did a good job. He instilled a lot of good things in us, so in a way we weren’t on our own.”
“Our team got closer,” Laverriere agreed.
Sophomore Sam Mills had the workout log Fulford used. It was helpful this indoor season while trying to put together workouts. But he said if he didn’t have the support of his teammates, it would have been difficult to do any training.
“It was really a different environment,” Mills said. “The seniors on the girls’ team really held everything together. It was like Abby, who’s the captain, was always looking out for us. As soon as we found out that Coach died, I called her to make sure it was true. I was crying and she was crying. I didn’t really move forward. Everything was different. Practice was still practice and meets were still meets, but now there was this hole blast right through the middle of it.”
Junior Jack Delprete said he didn’t know how to feel at the start of the indoor season. Then, at the first meet, when he thought he saw Fulford, he started crying.
“I felt such a loss. I had no idea what I was doing,” Delprete said. “He always stood in the same place. When I came around the track it made me think I’d see him there.”
Now before every race, to help deal with the loss, Delprete said he tries to stay positive, so he tells Fulford the next race is for him.
“I loved the way that before and after a race he always came up and fist-bumped us,” Delprete said.
Although the Biddeford distance runners have tried to stress the same kind of encouragement offered by Fulford, the void of his absence remains.
Many days that they meet to train on the roads, they’re reminded of him by everyday landmarks, and miss seeing him pedaling alongside.
“He always asked how you were feeling. He always checked in with us,” Laverriere said. “Even before big races, he’d ask, ‘How are you feeling? How are your legs feeling?’ ”
“He treated you like an individual, like he actually cared,” Perry said. “He gave very individual attention to each runner. It was very special.”
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: