It was like seeing a movie when Ku Stevens flew along the cross-country course in Nevada. Kurt Streeter, our Sports of The Times columnist, enjoys writing about athletes like him. An athlete who is both bigger than life and grounded in reality, hungry to perform but inspired by something other than the clock or the scoreboard.
Streeter first heard about Ku Stevens when the 18-year-old finished a Remembrance Run, a 50-mile trek over the summer in celebration of his great-multiple grandfather’s escapes from an Indigenous boarding school in Nevada.
When Streeter first met Stevens, he was taken away by the runner’s perspective, maturity, and talent, especially given that Stevens typically trains alone in the arduous sport of cross-country.
Streeter saw Ku Stevens win the cross-country state championship in early November while onlookers shouted and were overheard saying things like, “That’s Ku, the Indian boy from the reservation.” Oh my goodness, he’s quick!”
Not only did Stevens win — 59 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher — but his time was also the quickest in the state. In Nevada, he went unbeaten throughout the season.
But, according to Streeter, Stevens would run even if he didn’t win. “He’d simply run because it’s such a meaningful gesture.”
Ku Stevens did not sleep in or make arrangements to hang out with pals the next morning after winning the state championship. He awoke to cut wood for his family’s sweat lodge in their backyard. He would take part in a ceremony to remember the season, cherish the occasion, and keep grounded since there was still work to be done.
I chatted with Streeter about his storey on Stevens, what the sport means to the runner and his family, and how high school cross-country events are about much more than the distance travelled.
So much of what he does is motivated by a desire to respect his Yerington Paiute tribe, as well as Native Americans, first nations, and Indigenous people all around the world. He is aware of the horrors and difficulties of the past, as well as the difficulties of today. He is spiritual as well as practical, and he is politically conscious. When he’s out jogging, that’s when he can think about everything.
It’s impressive to reach that level in such a demanding sport. You’ve got to like it, and he does. He craves it: the sense of being in his body, of owning that place on the route.
It’s in his stride, and it’s in the way he talks about the sport. It’s not a chore for him. He describes suffering as something he loves, likes, and seeks to be pushed by.
He has all of these lofty goals for his running career. He’d want to run for the University of Oregon, but I think he recognises that’s unlikely. He’s obviously putting in the effort, jogging 50 to 60 miles or more every week, a lot of it on his own.
From my days as a collegiate and professional tennis player to my current position as a sportswriter, I’ve been around a lot of great athletes. Ku is one of the most dedicated and self-motivated athletes I’ve ever witnessed.