Dusty Soccer Cleats and Life Lessons

A Member of Glenwood’s Purple Pride Recalls the ‘Motivational Elixir’ of Coach Tom Sullivan

Sometimes, the full impact of a life lesson is not fully understood until many years later. For a group of local women aged 30-something, this became evident a few months ago when some unexpected news spread quickly.

“How can it be?” we thought. “He’s healthy. He’s invincible. Cancer? No way. Not Coach Tom Sullivan.”

After the initial shock of the news set in, the former Glenwood Springs Purple Pride women’s soccer teams knew we needed to band together to support Tom and his family. Coach Tom provided hope for us when there was seemingly none. He always knew what to say, and his famous half-time speeches were the spark that set much-needed motivation ablaze.

Imagine this: Purple Pride is down 3-0 in the first half, and our players slowly walk off the field exhausted, battered, and sweaty. Our eyes gaze down at the grass as we prepare for what is sure to be a loss. After all, Purple Pride is just a team from a small Western Slope town playing against a team from the big Front Range.

The team gathers in a circle on the side of the field with our coaches Scott Fifer and Tom Sullivan. These two gentlemen are not only saints for working with 18 teenage girls, but they balance each other perfectly. Scott explains his well-planned strategy for success, and then Tom begins to work his magic half of the formula. Tom tells us about pride, about holding our heads up no matter what lies ahead. He reminds us that we work hard, we play as a team, and that we don’t give up. He fills us with hope that transcends rational thought. He sees everything that is positive. We believe in ourselves because he believes in us.

Watching from the sidelines, one might have guessed that someone waved a magic wand inside the circle to shift the team’s attitude so significantly. Returning to the field, we are sprinting, jumping up and down, giving each other high fives and smiling. We are energized and ready to take on the second half of the game. For the next 45 minutes, we vow to leave everything we have on the field. Tom Sullivan’s motivational elixir is just what we needed.

Fast forward to June 10 of this year, when Purple Pride players dusted off our old cleats and took to the field once more. This wasn’t just any game of soccer; it was our turn to be an uplifting presence, to share our love and hope for Tom the way he had done so many times for us. Although some 20 years had passed since the team last played together, it appeared that nothing had changed except the new generation of kids spectating from the sidelines. This scrimmage and reunion was the team’s version of a pep talk for Tom.

To say that Tom has had a positive impact on this community is an understatement. Tom began his soccer coaching career in Glenwood Springs in the 1980s. He was instrumental in the creation of the women’s soccer program at Glenwood Springs High School and coached Glenwood’s premier women’s U-16 through U-18 Purple Pride soccer team in the 1990s. More recently, Tom coached and participated with the Defiance Rugby Club. He has voluntarily mentored and trained several athletes during the offseason. Prior to coaching, Tom was also a standout football player himself in high school and at Ohio State University.

When the request was made for support letters to rename the soccer/rugby field at Glenwood Park in Tom’s honor, letters representing 60 people came flooding through the door. Not only did Tom play a role in the creation of the field, but he lived adjacent to it for over 35 years. Appropriately referred to as the “keeper” of the field at Glenwood Park, Tom spent countless volunteer hours coaching and mentoring young men and women at that very place. Now it is named Sullivan Field at Glenwood Park, and an official dedication of this beloved space is forthcoming.

On behalf of my teammates, thank you, Tom, for the valuable lessons you taught us. Little did we know that those lessons learned on a soccer field would be so important two decades later. Just like the half-time circle, this community surrounds Tom, his wife Mary Ann, his son Jeff, his daughter Emily, and his grandchildren at a time when they need us most.