The toughest coach who ever lived is not Rockne or Lombardi or Parcells.
The toughest coach who ever lived is skinny as a foul pole, won't step on spiders and wears pigtails.
The toughest coach who ever lived is a 110-pound wisp, Dawn Anna, who twice now should've died on the operating table, only to live through something tenfold worse.
Anna, 49, the girls' volleyball coach for the past seven seasons at Columbine High, has something in her brain that makes her world spin every waking hour. A divorced mother of four who has remarried, she has coached while holding an IV bag in one arm as it dripped medication into the other. She has coached when she couldn't feel half her face, when the gym went black, when she felt like throwing up. But those weren't the tough days.
The tough days started on April 20. That's when she found out that last year's captain, Lauren Townsend, the school's 4.0 valedictorian, had been murdered while studying in the school library. Lauren was Dawn's youngest child.
"You know, I always told my kids to be careful crossing the street, and I told them to be careful riding their bikes," says Dawn, "but I never thought to tell them to be careful studying in the library."
That Dawn even had Lauren pretty much broke the bookmakers. Two times during the pregnancy doctors told Dawn they feared she had miscarried. In the delivery room they said extensive hemorrhaging should've killed her and her baby. Didn't. A year later Dawn was teaching Lauren to walk, urging her on, arms wide open.
In 1993 Dawn's world started rolling like a fun house barrel. Doctors found a jumbled mass of blood vessels in her cerebellum. During a preoperative procedure her carotid artery was inadvertently cut, and Dawn could see blood pooling fast on her shoulder. The doctors said she could've died. Didn't. As part of her recovery from brain surgery, Dawn had to learn to walk again. This time, Lauren taught her, urging her on, arms wide open.
Even though the dizziness remained, Dawn went on to become one of the better volleyball coaches in the state. Four years ago Columbine won its first girls' volleyball conference championship in 20 seasons. After that, with Lauren as their best blocker, the Rebels didn't finish below fourth in the 10-team conference.
Last summer, just before Lauren's senior season, doctors cut Dawn open, hipbone to hipbone, to remove ovarian cysts. That should've stopped her. Didn't. Two months before she was supposed to start coaching again, she was coaching again. Columbine didn't win it all last season, but Dawn's players got the award for the highest combined GPA of all 5A girls volleyball teams in the state: 3.89. "I kept coaching because I wanted to be with Lauren," Dawn says. Yeah, well, who didn't? Lauren was everybody's friend. Honors Society. Worked daily at a small-animal hospital, even on Christmas and Easter.