(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 14, 2017)
Royal Oak, MI – When Dela Jackson talks to the teenage girls on the Royal Oak High School Cross Country team, she tells them to be smart and not to rush too quickly into love. As she and her husband Don approach 20 years of marriage she hopes that she’s a good example for them.
“Whoever they are, they have to be a friend first. You need to have something deeper than just that initial attraction,” she said. “Too many people date and get bored with each other once that initial feeling wears off. What is it that you really have to share together? And what kind of future does this person have?”
For Dela and Don the common passion is running. Running is what brought them together. It’s what they have stuck with in their professions. It’s what helped them to raise a healthy family. And it’s an activity that each of them uses to connect with the community beyond themselves.
Dela has been coaching for two years, a position that not only lets her teach young women how to stay fit, but gives her a chance to be there for them as a mentor. Don spends his time working with runners to support them as they train and compete.
They both also work at Hanson’s Running in Royal Oak.
When Dela was a senior in high school she went to a track meet at Macomb Community College and she saw Don standing at the finish line wearing a suit. “I saw him standing there looking good in his suit and I thought, this guy is serious,” she said. Later when she started attending MCC, their paths crossed again and Don was also enchanted.
When asked why he was wearing a suit at school, Don said “It was for a speech in a class. I went to Cass Tech and we were taught that if you were giving a presentation you had to look your best. I’m glad I did because it left an impression.”
Both had a love of running as well as ambitions to finish college. Dela would attend classes and practice, and then take the bus and walk in order to get back and forth. “She was so determined,” Don said. “That was really impressive to me.”
In 1998 the couple got married, committing to a life where they could support each other and grow together. “He’s the perfect husband, friend and father,” Dela said. “If I’m grumpy he’ll try to figure out what’s wrong with me. He does whatever it takes to make the family happy. He’s always been a hard worker, and that’s what you need in a partner.”
They are both very proud of each other. Don has been to Beijing and London coaching marathon runners in the Olympics, including a runner from Libya who trained in the United States. Working at Hanson’s gives Don the chance to help thousands of runners feel more excited about the sport they love. Hanson’s donates shoes to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oakland and Macomb Counties for their BeFit running program. “I get to be the guy that shows up with the truck full of shoes,” he said. “They’re definitely about giving back here, and it feels good to be part of that.”
The spirit of giving back is also what attracted Don to Dela. “She is such a warm and giving person. Everybody that meets her knows what I’m talking about. She’s a great mom. Everyone on her team and the staff here love her,” he said.
“When she smiles, whatever terrible things I had had to deal with before is forgotten. She erases any bad day. When I have left to do coaching it’s been hard. When we’re apart, a few days go by that I can’t see her smile – that’s the hardest part.”
As parents Don and Dela don’t force running on their kids, but it is part of their lives. They have two sons, one in high school and one recently graduated. “We tell them the lifelong benefits of running, how it keeps you healthy and helps with stress,” Dela said. “But they still do their own things too.”
Both have worked with youth teams through Hansons, and Dela’s more recent experiences with coaching the teenage girls in Royal Oak has helped her get even more excited about giving back and being part of the running community.
“I love coaching. Some of them call me mother, and I help the on the field and off the field. Sometimes young people just need someone to talk to,” Dela said. “Sometimes they need help in school, and I tell them they need to be strong in the classroom too. For running I tell them ‘you’re still young. There’s no need to put a lot of pressure on themselves. Running is supposed to be fun. It’s not punishment.”
Dela and Don are both involved in each others volunteer efforts, so runners can see the care they have for each other and for the sport. “Coaching the girls’ team has been really good for Dela. She’s always been a loving person but now she is opening up even more, like it’s a different world. I can tell when she’s made a difference in their lives, it shows on her face. She’s so happy.”
At 45 and 48, Dela and Don hope to have many more years to love each other and the community.
“I tell young people, you need to find somebody that you like to be around. You see a girl, and she’s pretty and you know that’s all good, but if you’re serious you need to really like spending time with that person, even if you’re just friends first. Build that friendship because that’s what really gets you through,” Don said.