Connecticut teacher inspired by late daughter as he runs NYC Marathon

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A Connecticut teacher who will be running in the TCS New York City Marathon has turned a personal tragedy, the death of his young daughter, into an important lesson for his students in the classroom and on the race course.

Jim McCaffrey teaches English at Trumbull High School. The 16-year teaching veteran also serves as head coach of the girls high school cross-country team.

Whether it's on the track or in the classroom, McCaffrey's students told us he's the best teacher, the best coach, the best mentor they've ever had.

"He's just like a raw human being," said student Lexi Callaghan. "He knows what life is like. And he puts that into his teaching as well."

Callaghan and others told us McCaffrey connects with students by opening himself up. He's run 13 marathons, including the New York City Marathon back in 2008. And he incorporates his love for running into his classroom curriculum, including a book for his students.

"It's called 'Running on Empty.' It's about an ultra-marathoner named Marshall Ehrlich," McCaffrey told the class.

"Stories are the things that connect people," he said. "And when we talk about storytelling in books, storytelling in the classroom, I try to bring my story out all the time."

But his story involves much more than running. In 2017, the married father of three lost his 6-year-old daughter Mia to a rare form of cancer.

That was a tremendously heavy and emotional burden to carry. But steady running and a symbolic rock helped McCaffrey move forward.

It's a lesson he's passed on to his student-atheltes. "This rock symbolizes the burdens you carry with you," he told them. "You're going to carry them with you every day of your life."

Through his own life experience, Jim McCaffrey teaches young kids how to release and overcome the burdens they all carry. And the result is not just better students, it's better people.

"He's just like opening up to us and it makes it easier to open up to him," said student-athlete Kali Holden. "Because he shares his stories with us and we share our stories him. It's just a great environment on the team."

"I think life experience is a really important thing to bring into the classroom," said McCaffrey. "I try to make my classroom as vibrant as possible. I have pictures of my family, places I've been, things I've seen. A lot of it is so I can show kids who I am."

M-I-A stands for 'Make it Amazing', the team's chant that pays tribute to McCaffrey's daughter Mia. Each season he gathers the rocks carried by his runners and places them at his daughter's gravesite.

This year he'll carry one more rock as he runs the TCS New York City Marathon, with plans to release the rock as he crosses the Queensborough Bridge, free of any burdens and free to flow into the lives of his students.

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