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Backwoods of Star Valley

I grew up in a remote valley in Wyoming near the Idaho border, called Star Valley. It is about 50 miles long and is full of a handful of little towns.  I lived in the northernmost town called Alpine, which inhabited about 800 people at the time.  It was a great place for me to grow up.  I was surrounded by nature and mountains and the community was calm.  Yes, the bus ride to school was an hour and fifteen minutes long, and we would go to Idaho Falls for groceries, an hour and ten minutes away, but it was worth it.

I had access to trails, rivers and endless acres of wilderness.  For fun we would do outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, canoeing, exploring, making fun movies, and of course, running.

My childhood was fun and blissful, and it didn’t seem like anything could ever go wrong.  I loved sports from an early age. I tried out for the middle school basketball team twice, but couldn’t make the team.  My freshman year of High School my mother suggested I try out for the cross country team.  She had been a runner in college and thought I would do well in the sport as well.

Being the 14 year old boy that I was, running did not really appeal to me.  I wanted to chase a ball or do something fun!  But I was small; about 5 feet tall and only 92 pounds. I wasn’t built for sports like basketball or football. It seemed like if I wanted to play sports, cross country was my only option.

I joined the team.  It was a small team. The program had only been around for a couple of years, and running wasn’t especially popular in Star Valley.  There was a new coach that year, too: Ty Draney.

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High School Coach Ty Draney

I remember my first impression as a kid was that Ty Draney seemed very young for a coach.  I believe he was in his late 20’s at the time.  I thought: what does he know about running? I would later learn he knew quite a bit, and more importantly, he has a love for running that really stands out and that has stuck with me ever since.

The cross country program at Star Valley was new and not in any kind of good shape.  When Ty took the reigns, the kids were used to playing games as a workout.  The season started and I just hoped I wouldn’t be the slowest kid on the team.

Running was good to me and I picked up on it pretty fast.  My skinnier frame and my resolution made a good combo for a good distance runner.  My freshman year went well.  I was the second fastest runner on our little team, and things were looking good.

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My first cross country race

The next few years of High School continued to get better.  My sophomore year, I was the fastest runner on the team and I took 2nd place at the Wyoming State Meet.  My junior year was my first year I did track and field for Star Valley. I was State Champion in the 1600m and the 3200m.

Now I can’t say I loved running from the start.  I did not.  It was not fun and it hurt.  But my parents were persistent and made sure I stuck with it and that I did my workouts, and my coach was patient and made running fun.  Plus, I was good at it, and that helped.  It took a long time for me to acquire a love for running. Today, over ten years after I picked up running, I have a love for it that would be very hard to quench.

It was about the same time that I was gaining momentum as a runner in High School that Ty Draney was getting into Ultra-Running.  He started doing 100 mile races.  I have a very vivid memory of running with him during one of his 100 mile races the last 20 miles or so.  We were on top of a mountain, Ty had been running all through the night, and had been running straight for the last 20 hours or so.  I just remember how exhilarating the feeling was.  The sun was just starting to rise, and I could see the valley below that we were going to descend into.  We reached the finish line and Ty threw his water bottles up in the air, thankful to finish that long adventure.  I knew that some day ultra-running was something I wanted to get into.  Surely there couldn’t be anything else as invigorating, challenging, and breath-taking as running in the wilderness for a full day.  Today, ten years later, I still haven’t gotten into ultra-running, my longest race has only been a half marathon, but that is only because I have been doing track and field and cross country racing for the last ten years, and I am only recently free to race what I want.

My days as a Star Valley Brave are long gone, but I am very thankful for those years.  I didn’t know it at the time, but a lot of things started back then that would affect my lifestyle for years to come.

The once small and club-like cross country program has developed into to a thriving team of great High School runners.  As of now, the Star Valley men have been State Champions in Wyoming the last 5 years in a row.

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Star Valley Braves

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