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Coach G pushed generations of athletes to believe in themselves

The founder of Lightning Bolt Track Club died after contracting the coronavirus. She was 54.

Over the shouts of the crowd, athletes who trained with the Lightning Bolt Track Club could hear one voice clearly.

Coach Garlynn Boyd, known as “Coach G” or just “G” to the kids she worked with, ran back and forth in the stands and along the sidelines. She cheered the loudest, pushed the hardest and expected the best from generations of athletes in St. Petersburg.

Not everyone liked her for it. But a lot of them loved her for it.

Ms. Boyd, who had numerous health issues throughout her life, contracted the coronavirus and died June 24. She was 54.

Garlynn Boyd with Dixie Hollins High School coach Cheryl Miller, left, and competing in shot put, right, on May 13, 1982. "Coach Miller asked me to come out, and after I got permission from my mom, I began,” Ms. Boyd told the St. Petersburg Times then. "The first meet I threw in was against Gibbs. I threw the shot 36 feet for first place." Ms. Boyd started the Lightning Bolt Track Club in 1992. [ Image via Newspapers.com ]

“Go Sabrina! Go Mo! Go Money,” Sabrina Kelly heard her coach bellow at meet after meet as she ran 100- and 200-meter races in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Kelly was a shy 10-year-old when she started training with the coach. In Ms. Boyd, Kelly found someone who told her again and again that she couldn’t lose and pushed her to prove it.

“In her eyes, I was unbeatable,” Kelly said, “which made me think that I was unbeatable.”

Kelly was rated one of Florida’s top sprinters during her career at St. Petersburg High School and was an All-America sprinter at the University of Texas.

After Kelly finished college, Ms. Boyd went from coach to big sister, inviting Kelly over for her famous shrimp scampi. Ms. Boyd also pushed her former star into new things, even joining the Tampa Tempest Women’s Professional Football League in 2000. They played on the same team.

The coach was a superfan of her athletes, said Bob Putnam, who worked for the Tampa Bay Times for more than 25 years and now runs the site Prime Time Preps.

She was protective, he said, confident in their abilities and in her own, too.

Left: Ms. Boyd and Sabrina Kelly joined the Tampa Tempest Women’s Professional Football League together. Right: Ms. Boyd was pictured in The Tampa Tribune with her coach, Holly Hewlett, at a game on Oct. 18, 2000. Kelly is working to get a track in St. Pete named after her old coach. "I feel like she deserves that." [ Courtesy Sabrina Kelly/newspapers.com ]

“If you don’t run this, I don’t know how you’re gonna get home,” Ms. Boyd told Kevin Marion before a meet in the late ’90s. He hadn’t felt like running. “And you better run it good.”

He did. And he got that ride home.

After meets, Ms. Boyd always had critiques for kids who were part of her club and kids who weren’t. She fussed and cussed. She demanded they do more than just show up.

Among her star athletes: Olympic sprinter Trayvon Bromell and TJ Holmes, a former champion in hurdles for the Florida Gators.

Marion thinks Ms. Boyd kept a lot of kids out of trouble. She also got a lot of them to college, said former Gibbs High School head track coach Anthony Givins. She had a talent for picking out each kid’s best event, he said, then used the possibility of scholarships as motivation.

It worked for Marion. He went on to attend Wake Forest University on track and football scholarships and then played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Bills.

“She just saw more in you than you probably saw in yourself,” he said.

Left: Garlynn Boyd with her son, Ashton Taylor. Right: With Taylor as an adult. On July 26, 2000, the Tampa Bay Times wrote about Boyd's return after giving birth. "This has been the most wonderful 15 months of my life," Ms. Boyd said then. "He climbs, he runs, he jumps – he's been a Godsend." [ Courtesy Ashton Taylor ]

“Go Ash! Go Ash!” Ms. Boyd shouted from the crowd as her son, Ashton Taylor, wrestled for Admiral Farragut Academy his junior year.

Taylor looked over at his mother, who by then had both legs amputated because of diabetes. She was cheering so loudly she’d started to fall out of her wheelchair.

“What is wrong with you?” he teased her afterward.

“I was yelling for you,” she said. “If I fell on the floor, I fell on the floor.”

Ms. Boyd gave Taylor the same support she gave her athletes and demanded the same accountability. But as a mom, he said, she was a softie.

“My mother was a revered and controversial figure in the line of track and field in the Tampa Bay area,” said Taylor, who’s 21 and studying graphic design and marketing at the University of South Florida St. Pete. “She broke barriers that people didn’t think were there.”

In the last few years, the Lightning Bolt Track Club has slowed down, Taylor said. He wants to start it back up, helping kids in St. Pete, building them up and pushing them toward success. Taylor’s been in touch with many of his mom’s former athletes, he said. They’re ready to help him carry on her work.

“She did not let anything stop her,” Taylor said.

He doesn’t plan to, either.

Those we’ve lost:

We’re collecting stories of the people we’ve lost to the coronavirus. Please share suggestions at khare@poynter.org, and sign up for our weekly newsletter, coming soon, called How They Lived.

Read other Epilogues:

Michael Konrad spent his life making his co-workers and community better

Deo Persaud built his life from scratch in Guyana, then did it again in America

Rita Mosely walked miles each day for work and pushed her family much farther

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