It’s no secret that running plays an integral role in sports and athletic development. Whether it’s stretching a single into a double, beating man coverage for a 50-yard touchdown, or conditioning for the 90th minute of a soccer match, speed and endurance are two of the most important tools an athlete can possess.
In many cases, speed is synonymous with athleticism. Oftentimes, a coach will see the potential in a young athlete who can flat-out run even if she lacks experience or fundamentals in a particular sport.
Despite the emphasis on running in athletics, cross country and track are often overlooked as primary, or even secondary, sports options. Thankfully, Oklahoma City Public Schools is making great strides in growing the district’s running sports culture by removing many of the hurdles that deter participation.
Thanks to the installation of new running tracks at several OKCPS schools and quality gear and resources provided by community partners like the Simon Greiner Track & Field Program, Cleats For Kids, and Red Coyote Running, more and more students are lining up to join their school’s cross country and track teams.
One of these students is Aiden Kirkpatrick, a sophomore at Classen SAS High School at Northeast and a key member of the Comets cross country team led by Coach Carsen Moon.
As the subject of the latest installment in our Break It Down blog series, we chatted with Aiden about the role of sports in his life and how cross country running has taught him to overcome unforeseen challenges and obstacles.
What high school sport do you participate in?
Cross country and track
Do you plan to play sports in college? If so, what sport/s and where?
I want to get recruited for track and field by the University of Oregon.
Why are sports important to you?
Sports are important to me because they teach discipline. I may not want to run every day, but I know that if I want to be great I have to work hard.
Tell us about your earliest sports memory.
On the first day of cross country practice freshman year, I came to the old Northwest Classen dirt track and was just scared out of my mind because I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into. Fortunately, I ended up falling in love with the sport.
“Sports keep me focused on a goal and dream.”
What was your biggest sports goal or dream when you were a kid?
My biggest goal is to be one of the greatest runners in high school. I want to run at the National meets and own course records. I want people to see me at a race and say, “Oh wow! That kid is fast!”
Is that goal different now? If so, how?
With the Covid-19 pandemic, all qualifier meets for National Meets have been canceled so instead of running a qualifier and seeing where I stand, I’m going to take that time and start training for the track season in the spring.
Tell us about your favorite sports memory.
I was so excited when I broke 20 minutes for a 5k. I crossed the finish line and looked at the clock and just smiled. I also got my first medal at that race, which showed me the potential I have if I can just be consistent.
What impact has your sports career had on your life?
Running has taught me how to be strong mentally and physically. There have been some days where I really think I can’t finish a workout or race but I just keep telling myself, “One more step,” and repeat it until I finish.
Now, I have a whole new attitude when I face challenges. Instead of being scared and putting them off for later because they’re hard, I look the challenge in the face and tell myself, “Okay, just finish it.”
What impact has it had on the people around you?
Running has made the people around me think I’m crazy. I will tell my friends what I did for a workout and they just look at me with a blank expression and ask how I did it. I think it’s one of the major perks of running!
Do you think your focus on sports has helped you avoid trouble or bad choices? How?
Yes. Sports keep me focused on a goal and dream. That dream can’t include smoking, drinking, etc. That would just put me further away from what I want to accomplish so I can’t get involved in all of that.
Tell us about a lesson you learned from playing sports that you can apply elsewhere in life.
Starting is the hardest part. You have to just get out and do it. When you start something, you’re more likely to just finish it anyway. I learned that from track in the spring, and now I use it in my every-day life whether I’m just doing my chores or getting schoolwork done.
Finish this sentence: A team is…
A family. We all have to be on the same page and work together as one body of people, and that is the ideal family.
How have you been impacted by the disruptions in sports and school due to COVID-19?
COVID-19 has caused us to be extremely cautious when training and at races. None of us want to get sick and spread the virus. COVID-19 also threatened to end my season a few weeks ago by postponing the season until the district thought it was safe to continue. I thought then and there that my season was over. Not going to lie, I walked to my car after practice and just cried for a little bit. It was heartbreaking to hear that we may not be able to go to State after all the work my teammates and I put into this season. Fortunately, the season resumed and we were able to compete in Regionals.
How did you and your team do at Regionals?
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to State as a team, and I had a really bad regional race so I’m putting it behind me and just trying to focus on track season in a few months. The good news is that two of my teammates, Grady Dawson and Mason Fair, qualified for State so I will be there supporting them!
How have your coaches and/or teammates helped you remain active and positive despite the circumstances?
When Coach Moon told us that the season was postponed he said something along the lines of, “This doesn’t mean our season is over. You guys have worked too hard this season, so, if it does get canceled, we will run a final team time trial.” That calmed me down and made me realize we still have more opportunities to run together as a team.
How important is it for young athletes to have access to quality athletic fields and facilities?
It is extremely important. Quality facilities attract more people to play sports, which can set people up for success beyond high school.
Have you ever played on a new field built by Fields & Futures or the school district?
Fields & Futures is currently building my school a new, paved track, which I am super excited about because there is no better feeling than running on a rubber track.
What was your initial reaction the first time you played on a new field?
I ran on the new track at Northwest Classen for the first time a few weeks ago and I was just blown away by the attention to detail. The track felt magical. There’s no other way to describe it.
“Running has taught me how to be strong mentally and physically. Now, I have a whole new attitude when I face challenges.”
Give an example of how a coach has been a positive influence in your life.
Coach Moon has been a great coach. He pushes me to reach my goals and helps me see what other small steps I have to take to accomplish my individual goals and the team goals. I could not ask for a better coach.
Give an example of how a team or teammate has been a positive influence in your life.
All of my teammates push me to become better and faster. Without them, I wouldn’t be as competitive as I am. They make me work harder in practice, which translates to running faster times at races.
How have sports kept you focused in the classroom?
I have to have good grades to play. If I become ineligible, I have to sit out for two weeks and that just doesn’t sound very fun. I also need good grades if I want to be recruited to run in college.
What is your biggest life/career goal or dream?
My biggest life goal is to just give back to the running community. It has helped me so much and I just want to show my gratitude to the sport.
What advice do you have for kids getting into school sports?
Just be patient and surprise yourself. During my first year of cross country, I had no idea what a good goal was but I just wanted to surprise myself. Also, sports are going to take a lot of work, focus, and time. So if you want to be one of the greats, you’re going to have to sacrifice a few things. But, in the end, it’ll be worth it!