Reading the list of running accolades of Niwot junior Cruz Culpepper's parents is a bit like an endurance exercise in itself: US cross country championships, indoor and outdoor track titles, four Olympic Games appearances ... it goes on and on.

No sweat for the next generation of Culpepper, though. Cruz is scribing a list all his own.

Add: 2018 boys runner of the year.

The Cougars junior sparkled in one of the top XC seasons by a high schooler in the nation. He posted what was the country's second-fastest time (14:43) at the Desert Twilight Festival in Arizona back in September. A month later, he won the 4A race at the state meet (15:48) while dealing with a sinus infection.

Asked if he feels a weight having Olympians Alan and Shayne Culpepper as parents, the junior chuckled. They're just Mom and Dad to him.

"It's not that crazy," he laughed. "I always remember them with a lot of physical therapists around the house, and shoes, and gear and such. But besides that, it wasn't like they really pushed me into running."

He said running wasn't his primary focus until sophomore year. The late start allowed him to shape his own path and not only follow in his parents' successes.

As a freshman, Culpepper wasn't eligible to run in varsity races after he transferred from Boulder to Niwot. Instead, he played for the school's tennis team — taking third at state in No. 2 doubles — and jumped into JV races when he could.


It wasn't until his sophomore indoor track season when he realized running was what he wanted to do going forward.

"I was racing the mile at Air Force and I won that race easily and against some good competition," he said. "I just felt really comfortable and good. And it really just built from there and haven't had that poor of a race since."

Looking back, Cougars coach Kelly Christensen said he knew Culpepper would be a special runner even when he'd skateboard to practice freshman year with a tennis racket in hand.

Niwot’s Cruz Culpepper was all alone in the stadium finish at the 4A state meet in October, pacing the race at 15 minutes, 48 seconds.
Niwot's Cruz Culpepper was all alone in the stadium finish at the 4A state meet in October, pacing the race at 15 minutes, 48 seconds. (Isaiah J. Downing / FOR THE DAILY CAMERA)

He said he didn't want to push him head-first into the sport until he was ready.

"I've seen a lot of Olympian kids struggle because it is a lot of pressure and it is someone else's shadow," Christensen said. "At the teenage level you really feel like you're wanting to create your identity so much and then there's this unexpected pressure. Even though there's no pressure at all coming from his teammates, the coaches, the community, his parents — I think it's self-perceived at that age.

"So, there's always a concern as far as pushing through that, but Cruz has done a really good job at making his own identity and becoming his own athlete."

As for the skateboarding? Cruz said it's off the list.

"I don't want to get injured," he cracked.

The junior will run at the Foot Locker Cross Country Midwest Championship in Wisconsin on Nov. 24.

Brent W. New: and @brentwnew