Cove senior Tim Stevens has always loved running — possibly even further back than he can remember.
“My dad said when I was learning to walk I took two steps and then I was running around the coffee table,” he said.
While Stevens jokingly said he cannot confirm the validity of that statement, his lifelong love for the sport has translated into an impressive high school career that has seen him win six individual state championships in track and cross country.
And his career is set to last much longer, as on Jan. 28 he has signed a letter of intent to run for NCAA Division I University of Idaho.
“It was a combination of things,” Stevens, who was also considering Wyoming, Portland and Gonzaga, said of the choice to join the Vandals. “They were very supportive. I was impressed with everything I saw academically and athletically. Really it just came down to how I felt after thinking and praying about it, and I had the best feeling about University of Idaho.”
He intends to study mechanical engineering at U of I, saying he was impressed by the labs and shops in the school’s engineering department on his visit. He also said mechanical engineering has a broad scope, which will give him more options in what to study.
Stevens will be joining both the track and cross country teams as arguably the best distance runner to graduate from Cove, which he’ll do this spring. (Alex Graffunder, a state champion runner who signed with University of Oregon a year ago, was at Cove for two years before transferring to Union.)
Stevens has claimed individual state championships in cross country for Union/Cove’s cooperative as a sophomore and a senior and was second as a junior. His time last fall of 15:33 matched a state record set by Graffunder a year earlier (Graffunder’s record was in Class 3A/2A/1A, Stevens’ in 2A/1A). The time was also the second best in the state regardless of classification, topped only by 5A runner Evan Holland, of Ashland.
Stevens has been just as good for the Leopards’ track team. He has won the 1A state championship in the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter runs each of the last two years, and his time of 4:00.40 in the 1,500 at last year’s state championship was a 1A state meet record. The 3,000 state meet record could be in danger this spring, too, as he was within five seconds of the mark a year ago.
He may have been running circles around coffee tables at a young age, but he didn’t transition to running track until moving to Cove in the seventh grade. Prior to that, he spent a lot of time playing soccer.
But Stevens’ current teammate, Jack Silveira, helped turn him on to the sport during those middle school days.
“He encouraged me to go out for track,” he said, adding soccer wasn’t in the picture at Cove due to the lack of a program. “(I) realized I like to run. People were telling me to go out for track.”
It was around that time, too, that Stevens, who is a Christian, began to look at his running ability as a gift from God, and one he should put to use.
“I don’t see any explanation other than it came from (God),” he said. “Everything I have is a gift from God.”
He didn’t want to waste it, either.
“I heard other people talk about how they’ve been good at something, not used it and then lost it,” Stevens said.
His ability to use that gift was tested during middle school and into his freshman year when he developed Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is defined on orthoinfo.aaos.org as “an inflammation of the area just below the knee where the tendon from the kneecap (patellar tendon) attaches to the shinbone (tibia).” He was working through it at the time Steve Sheehy, Union/Cove’s cross country coach, talked to him about joining the high school cross country team.
“At its worst, sometimes my legs would give out and would buckle, (but) it never stopped me from running,” Stevens said.
Stevens ultimately made the decision to take on cross country in addition to track, and has not only endured, but thrived. He said he used to wear neoprene straps on his knees when running, but he’s grown past the knee condition, which most often occurs during growth spurts, according to the Orthoinfo website.
“It’s not going to get worse,” he said. “There’s not going to be any permanent damage. I was fortunate enough to keep running.”
A major part of his success can also be tied to the amount of work he puts in. Stevens has run more than 70 miles in a week at times, and he said he’s currently logging about 60. That includes one day a week where he’ll run 25 percent of that total distance. This week, that 25 percent added up to a run of 15 miles, which he did Monday.
While that may seem like a very high amount, Stevens said once you’ve logged that many miles in one run, the final stretch of a 1,500 or 3,000 is much easier.
It’s a concept he picked up at the Steens Mountain Running Camp, quoting camp director Harland Yriarte as saying, “overemphasize to trivialize.”
The mental aspect of the sport is just as vital, and he said the long distance runs help with his mindset.
“I had to learn all that and train my mind as much as my body, especially with distance running,” he said.
What races he’ll run at Idaho are not yet set, and Stevens noted that the 5K or even the 10K could be a possibility.
But for now, Stevens said he feels blessed to have the chance to keep competing at a high level, and he’s quick to deflect the glory for the gift he’s had since he was running around the coffee table.
“I am really thankful to God for allowing me to be at this point,” he said. “(I’m) looking forward to seeing what happens.”