On the Road has travelled far out west to Wall, South Dakota , home of the Eagles, where long time coach Karol Patterson will teach all of us that ‘no matter life’s obstacles, this too shall pass.
“You just have to be driven enough to want to accomplish it. And if you’ve got it here, it’ll work. It’ll work. And I tell that to my students every time. Think about what you’re doing. Focus on it. Go for it,” said Karol Patterson.
Karol Patterson graduated from Wall High School back in 1973 and then started teaching for the Wall Eagles in 1982. She is described by others as a “tough love” type of person. Driven and determined.
“I have a twin sister, Karen, and her and I were always together, always doing things. And I think, the tough love and the driven was, we were always there for each other but we also competed against each other,” said Karol Patterson.
Karol stands at about five feet tall, but nothing has ever stopped her from competing. Shoot, she actually threw the discus in track and she ran the hurdles too.
“Coach, we were talking earlier about…you know, we’re not the tallest people, and we don’t have the longest legs, and we were both hurdlers,” said Mike Huether.
“Yeah,” said Karol Patterson. “To me, if I hit a hurdle, it was no big deal. Get up. Go on.”
Not only has Karol been teaching students for 38 years, she has been a successful track and cross-country coach as well. Assistant Coach Ashley Kier has known Karol for 10 years, coaching with her for six.
“She is just kind of like the ray of sunshine in our school. She is very dedicated as a teacher, but as a coach too. She spends so much time improving students, athletically, but also setting them up for a future,” said Ashley Kier.
Recently retired Wall Public Schools art instructor of 31 years, Cheryl Lester, has also seen and felt the positive impact of Karol.
“She’s like the little train that could. She just keeps on chugging,” said Cheryl Lester. “She teaches middle school. They’re a tough bunch, sometimes,” said Cheryl Lester, “She definitely is vocal when it’s a need to, and she’ll get them all in line and things. She makes sure that they toe the line.”
Whether in the hallways, the classroom or on the track or field, you know that Karol is setting the pace and driving the results.
“You’ll always know where she is. You can hear her and she is jumping and screaming and if you didn’t know her, you think it’s probably a little goofy. But it, it’s what motivates the kids and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I got it. I can do it.’ ” said Ashley Kier, “The kids know when they hear her voice. Okay, I got to pick it up and go harder.”
Karol is no stranger to picking it up and going harder in life. Maybe the most trying example happened four years ago when Karol and her husband Gale were involved in a terrible car accident.
“It was a Sunday afternoon and there was a very, very large prairie fire that had started east of Wall,” explains Karol Patterson. “We drove down the interstate a ways just to look, and then we turned around and came back. The wind shifted, the smoke went over the interstate. You could not see. And a vehicle had stopped and then another vehicle had stopped.”
Then, there was a series of crashes.
“We definitely ran into the one in front of us, and then the vehicle behind us hit us which threw us kind of back into the front vehicle. And, we ended up in the center lane,” said Karol Patterson.
The accident was horrible, but “angels”, according to Karol were everywhere keeping her and her husband safe. A semi coming by just missed her. An emergency room doctor stopped and two nurses, just happened to show up too?
“It was pretty scary. They life flighted her of course to Rapid City and, and they were worried about internal injuries from all of the bone breaks and things. Wow. She, she got through it. It was, it was probably a miracle,” said Cheryl Lester.
“I broke C one, the base of your neck, and I broke three, four and five. And I broke eight ribs. I broke my sacrum, which is your tailbone area, and then a toe on each foot,” said Karol Patterson.
“That day was a shock. I remember getting the phone call and I just didn’t believe it. You know nothing can knock this woman down. Nothing can stop her. What do you mean she’s hurt? What do you mean this happened?” recalls Ashley Kier.
Students, athletes, teachers, community members, family and her faith provided Karol the additional strength she needed.
“When I was laying there, I said to myself, ‘Karol, you will get through this. This too shall pass.’ ” said Karol Patterson.
“She is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. And she has one saying and she always says, ‘This too will, shall pass.’ ” said Ashley Kier.
“She just knows how to get through it and gets through it with a smile, which I don’t know how she always does it, but she does. And the kids know that and they feel that both in the classroom, the hallway and also, you know, on the field.”
The accident occurred in October. She came back, bound and determined to be with her students, athletes and fellow school teammates, in February.
“She healed as quickly as anybody could dream. And you know, she, she has a strong inner core, and she got herself back to school,” said Cheryl Lester.
“I coached track that fall, that spring, and it was the athletes. It was the coaches. It was the staff. It was the community. It was my family. Everybody that helped,” said Karol Patterson.
“We got each other’s backs even during the toughest time, the good times. And I think that right there is the strongest thing she can possibly pass down to our students, coaches, athletes, is we’re in this together,” said Ashley Kier.
“You have to accept people the way they are. And if you need to help them, please do step that up, and in return, you will get back that love,” said Karol Patterson. “…Which I have received big time.”
Coach Karol was named the 2019-2020 Cross Country Coach of the Year by the South Dakota Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association and was named the South Dakota High School Track and Field Coach of the Year in 2017. She is the first to credit her fellow Eagle coaches and the student athletes for making this happen.