Ben Butler won his second state cross country title last month, but he has a lot left to accomplish. Photo by Alan Versaw.
Oklahoma State has signed a lot of Colorado athletes lately--Jenni Celis, Kaela Edwards, and Cerake Geberkidane come to mind. Do you have a particularly close connection with any of those Colorado signees, or is OSU just working the Colorado fields especially hard?
I think that OSU can see that there is a lot of talent in Colorado--they look beyond the race times at face value and can recognize the great ability that Jenni, Kaela, and Cerake have. I got to race against Cerake from 8th grade through sophomore year, and my parents and I would always talk about how he was definitely going to be an Olympian someday, at least in our minds. Even though I didn't really know him, he inspired me to take my racing to the next level. I feel very blessed to have been given a chance to follow in the footsteps of Colorado legends!
Tell us a little about how long you've been thinking about Oklahoma State and what clinched the decision for you.
Oklahoma State has been on my mind since my sophomore year in high school, when I took an admissions tour of the university for the first time with my family. I didn't know anything about OSU before that, and I really didn't know what to expect. From the moment we took that tour, it felt right. Everyone was really nice and friendly, and it helped that my dad and I got to talk with Coach Smith. He didn't know who I was--I wasn't fast enough, I was only a sophomore--and he took the time out of his schedule to talk to us about OSU and the program. I could see that Coach Smith really believed (and believes) in the program and truly cares about each and every runner on the team. It was clear that this place had a culture of greatness, and that's the place where I wanted to be.
What do you plan to study at Oklahoma State?
I plan on studying International Business with a minor in Spanish.
What are your plans for post-season cross country coming up?
Right now I'm really excited about NXR. Last year, I got off to a poor start, got buried deep in the pack, and was unable to catch the leaders when I wanted to. This year, I'm coming back to make an all-out last run at qualifying for NXN. If I run smarter, I think I'll put myself in a good position. In the end, it's God's will.
I'm also planning on running the USA Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon, to try and qualify for the Pan American Junior XC team in February.
Are there any particular remaining goals you'd like to knock out in what's left of your high school career?
I'm very thankful for all that I've been able to accomplish in high school. As far as remaining goals go, NXN is a huge one for me. I love cross country and would love the chance to compete against the nation's best. On the track, I want to see our boys' 4x800 win state in 3A. Those guys are some of my best friends, and we talked last year about how we wanted to go all the way and take home a title. It would mean the world to me if I could experience a championship with them. Getting the 3A state record in the 3200 is another big goal of mine in track (sub-9:18), as is winning a state championship at 1600 meters. I really want to run sub-9:15 and sub-4:15 for 3200 and 1600. Most of all, though, I want to enjoy my last season with my best friends.
If you had to pick a highlight moment of your high school career to date, what would that be?
I literally cannot pick one. Here are three major highlights from high school:
1. Around the start of my freshman year track season, my mom found out she had an aneurysm that needed to be operated on. Eventually, she and the doctors agreed that she would have surgery the day following her birthday. That year, her birthday fell on the same date as the Brighton Mercury Classic, where I would be running the 3200. Under the lights and with my mom watching, I won my first-ever race on the track in a new PR of 10:04. It was an emotionally-charged race for sure, because I didn't know if my mom would live to see me run another, and I wanted to make sure she saw me win once. She is fine now through God's grace, but it was a moment I got to share with her not knowing if things would be the same again.
2. I'll always remember the 2013 XC State Championship when SkyView was still 2A. We were up against Lyons, the heavy favorite, the year when everyone was talking about them sweeping the podium. I was determined to stay up with Paul Roberts and equally determined to crack the top three. I was in great position until Big Willis, when Paul, and then Marcel Such, passed me in quick succession. I held on for dear life until I got out of the woods and near the creek crossing. I heard Joel's footsteps right behind me and all the Lyons coaches yelling, "You can catch him!" I tried to speed up, but my body wouldn't respond. Once I crossed the creek again, Joel passed me on the final hill leading into the stadium. Lyons got the podium sweep, and I missed third place by about two seconds. I went home that night and promised myself that I'd train even harder and become stronger so that nobody could pass me up a hill. If I ever don't feel like training, I think of that day, and I go out and train hard. I think of it even still, and it motivates me to never settle or quit. I'd like to thank all the Lyons runners, especially Paul Roberts, for inspiring me to work harder and be a better runner.
3. My last one is more recent--at the 2015 Liberty Bell Invitational during track season. I had chosen to skip prom for a big 3200 that night, and I was ridiculously nervous. I had wanted a PR at 3200 all season, and I knew I wanted it then. I charged out hard and pushed the pace for all eight laps. Coming home in the final 100 meters, it felt like God was pushing me with His mighty hand; I was flying. The clock showed 9:23, and that's all I needed to see. My mom was there, and she gave me a huge hug and then called my dad, who was away on business. I talked with him and we shared that great moment.
I got about three total hours of sleep that night due to after-prom. The next day, my teammates and I were entered in the "B" 4x800 which went off as one of the first events of the day. My teammate Jimmy Scavuzzo had also been at prom the night before and was totally exhausted. We talked beforehand and decided that we wouldn't be too upset if we ran slow. At that point, we had run 8:46, putting us at the precarious 18th slot as state loomed close. So, we really wanted a fast time, but we were all so tired. Caleb Rickel, our second leg, suggested that we all drink some Monster before the race to give us a little more energy.* So we did. I guess it worked. Every guy on the relay ran a PR leg and we ended up winning the "B" heat with an 8:29. Getting to share an awesome run with them was a huge confidence-booster and highlight that sticks with me.
* - Editorial disclaimer: The publication of this story should not be construed as an endorsement of the consumption of energy drinks prior to racing. :-)