The bond between a coach and an athlete can be really strong.
Family bonds can be even stronger.
If you’re lucky, you can get the strength of both bonds in one go.
That’s the case for Monadnock Regional Middle High School senior Delaney Swanson, the top runner on the girls cross country team, and head coach Clint Joslyn, who is her uncle and has been her coach for the past seven years.
“It’s been really wonderful,” Swanson said. “I’ve really enjoyed him being my coach and I wouldn’t have wanted any other coach.”
Swanson started running when she was in sixth grade, while Joslyn was coaching the middle school team.
Since then, their bond has only gotten stronger, culminating in a senior season that both Swanson and Joslyn will remember forever — a season that Swanson said was her best yet.
Swanson finished in fourth place at the NHIAA state divisional meet and was the top Division 3 runner at the Meet of Champions, finishing in eighth place.
The bond that formed between her and Joslyn was motivation to finish her high school career on such a high note.
“When I’ve fallen down, he’s always made sure to tell me that he’ll always be proud of the me and he’ll always believe in me no matter what happens,” Swanson said. “So I really just wanted to prove to him that … he has a reason to believe in me.”
“I really enjoyed watching her grow,” Joslyn said. “Physically, she’s gotten stronger and faster, but her confidence has gotten better, she’s really learned to race, it’s been a lot of fun, I’ve really enjoyed the time we spent together.”
The bond has grown so strong over the years that they see their relationship as more than just uncle and niece.
“He’s been a wonderful coach and uncle to me, but he’s basically like my dad, so it’s just a really wonderful bond,” Swanson said.
“The sport has drawn us together,” Joslyn said. “I see her before a race, I can tell if she’ll have a good race or a bad race by the way she’s presenting herself. We just read each other really well.”
Joslyn said the two weren’t nearly as close before Swanson started running cross country. They’d see each other at family gatherings and Joslyn and his wife, Angella — who is Swanson's aunt and her mom's sister — even babysat Swanson when she was growing up, but it was really the running that brought them so close together.
They both said some of their greatest memories together came from their training runs, where they would go anywhere between 10 and 16 miles.
“We’ve had a lot of runs together over the years, just the two of us, just chatting about everything in the world. They were a lot of fun,” Joslyn said. “Some of them were hard runs, where we both were struggling at the end, and some of them we didn’t even realize we had run 13 miles.”
Swanson said she always struggled doing the long runs on her own.
“But whenever I’m able to do them with him, he always makes them really fun,” Swanson said. “And it doesn’t ever feel as hard as I make it feel when I’m by myself.
“And I always make him do all of my long runs with me,” she added with a laugh.
Having two separate relationships with the same person can get a bit confusing at times. Swanson said she sometimes will call Joslyn “coach” at family gatherings when he’s playing the uncle role.
But when it comes to the team, Joslyn makes sure everyone feels like family.
“It’s a very family-oriented team,” Swanson said. “So he treats everybody on the team like his family.”
The balance between being an uncle and a coach isn’t something that Joslyn puts a lot of thought into because: “It is what it is.” He said he just takes it day-by-day.
“When we’re at practice, I’m her coach and she listens as an athlete does to a coach,” Joslyn said. “At the end of practice, we’ll give each other a high five and say, ‘See you tomorrow,’ or ‘See you on Sunday at the family reunion’ or whatever it is.”
Being a coach and uncle to the team’s top runner definitely has its perks, especially when commitment season rolls around.
Swanson recently committed to running at the University of Massachusetts — Lowell, and Joslyn got to celebrate as both her coach and her uncle.
They went on the campus tour together, and he knew right away that it would be a good spot for her.
“She was excited and bubbly the whole time. It’s really exciting for me to see,” Joslyn said.
This next step means she’ll have a new coach for the first time in her running career, so Joslyn will take more of a back seat, but that doesn’t mean Swanson will get any less than 100 percent of his support. They both said they’ll be keeping touch constantly.
“I know it’s going to be kind of a rough time for both of us, because both of us really enjoy being able to spend so much time together,” Swanson said. “I know I’m definitely going to be … filling him in on how my running is going.”
Joslyn said he plans on going to watch her run whenever he can.
And, of course, they’ll keep training together over the summers, just like any other uncle-niece/coach-runner duo would.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” Joslyn said. “I think we both learned a lot about each other over the last seven years.
“I have gained a lot of respect for her over seven years as her coach,” Joslyn added in a text. “She has definitely taught me how to be a better coach.”
And the most important thing Swanson has learned in her seven years with Joslyn as her coach?
“I never give up and always know that there’s somebody that believes in me,” she said.
How’s that for a supportive coach? Or uncle? Well, sometimes it’s one and the same.