Student Athletes Shine on National and World Stages

On Top of the World: SVVSD Student-athletes shine on national and world stages

Whether they’re racing to finish lines, wrestling challenges, finding their flow through life’s turbulence, or finding creative solutions to balancing athletic pursuits with rigorous academics, St. Vrain Valley School District student athletes are continuously ascending to new heights. Our district is proudly dedicated to strong athletic and educational programming, and it shows. Here, we’ve checked in with a few of our nationally-ranked stars, who share glimpses and tips from their journeys so far.

Cruz Culpepper, Track & Field, Niwot High
Son of Olympic stars Alan and Shayne Culpepper, it would seem middle distance runner Cruz Culpepper is following in his parents’ footsteps on the track. It would more accurate to say the Niwot High Junior is blazing his own trails, and fast. Running played a natural role in Cruz’s life from an early age, but he didn’t begin competing seriously until the beginning of his freshman year. Since then, he’s consistently achieved, winning the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in the mile, placing second at the Texas Relays, and just recently capturing the individual state championship title in cross-country. “It’s not all about winning, but winning feels good,” he says. “It validates the training.”

Typical routine:  In the summer, I log 50 miles a week. Now, I just do about 40 miles a week. The rhythm of the school year helps with getting everything in, training and academics. That consistent structure really helps.

School support: My coach, Coach [Kelly] Christiansen, is amazing. He has the number one coach award--I couldn’t ask for any better coach.

Personal tip: Consistency is everything. I started making my biggest jumps when I realized that. Also, pay attention to details but don’t overthink things. That’s too mentally draining.

Goal: For this upcoming track season I want to run under 1:50 for 800m, and under 4:05 for the mile. Senior year I hope to break a 4-minute mile, and I am aiming for the Olympics.

Drake Engelking, wrestling, Longmont High School
Inspired by his father, a star athlete himself while a student at Longmont High, senior Drake Engelking decided to give wrestling a try eleven years ago. While enthusiastic, Drake didn’t take the sport too seriously initially. Things changed at age twelve, however, when he won his first national tournament. “I ended up winning the whole thing, and something just clicked,” he said. “I thought, wow, I can really go somewhere with this.” Since then, Drake has balanced studies with training and lots of travel, competing in and out of state and earning himself the ranking of 15th in the nation.

Typical routine:  Our team typically practices two mornings a week, and every day after school same as all the other sports. Saturdays we’re usually at competitions, same as college routines. And Sundays, I go up to UNC to practice with those guys.

School support: My dad was my coach when I was younger, and as head wrestling coach at Longmont High is my coach now. I’ve learned so much from him and all my earlier coaches, who prepared me by teaching me every little thing.  

Personal tip: You just have to work your hardest. Wrestling isn’t an easy sport to get into. There are a lot of ups and downs. You have to know you are going to lose, and you just have to stick with it if you really want it. If you love it, you will get through the downs.

Goal: I’m really excited to continue wrestling career and become an All-America at the University of Northern Colorado.

Katie Fankhouser, freestyle whitewater kayaking, Lyons Middle Senior High School

Junior Katie Fankhouser’s journey as a whitewater kayaker started with a simple ad in the newspaper. That, and budding boredom with gymnastics. “I was almost ten,” Katie recounts. “I saw the ad for Lyons Kids Kayak Club and thought, why not try gymnastics in a kayak?” From the get-go, Katie showed remarkable aptitude, learning rolls, flips and tricks with precision. Soon local competition morphed into traveling statewide, nationally, and, last November, representing the USA at the World Championships in Argentina and earning numerous sponsorships.

Typical routine:  Kayaking is mostly in the summer. From May through August, I typically kayak every day, three times a day. When the school year starts, I switch gears and focus on running. This shift gives me a healthy balance. I can build a lot of all-around fitness with running and lifting and other sports, and I can focus on academics with a more standard schedule.

School support: Teachers have been incredibly supportive and helpful. This time last year, I was in South America for four and a half weeks competing. All my teachers worked with me creatively and flexibly to make sure I was able to keep on top of my classes.

Personal tip: I really try to think consciously about setting goals. Make sure you’re following a direction. Set a goal, reach that goal, reset. Continually self-reflect.

Goal: I want to make Team USA again. If I qualify, I’ll compete at Worlds in July in Catalonia, Spain.

Autumn Lull, gymnastics, Silver Creek High School

Silver Creek sophomore Autumn Lull’s decade and counting pursuing gymnastics started out as fun at her local recreation center. It quickly transformed into much more. The modest, determined gymnast is currently ranked 10th in the nation overall, and 4th in beam. “It’s taught me so much,” Autumn says. “Deep down, I really do it because it’s fun. But it is also a big part of why I am who I am.”

Typical routine: I get up at 5:45 and get ready for school. I leave school at 1:30 and head over to Airborne Gymnastics, where I train until 7--sometimes I can finish as early as 6. I get home about 7 or 8, eat dinner, do my homework, go to bed, get up and do it all again.

School support: My coaches and teachers have been so helpful and understanding. There’s a willingness to do what it takes so I can stay on top of everything, from scheduling a free period at the end of the day so I can train to having the option of online classes.

Personal tip: Trust yourself to give your best, and trust those who support you. Sometimes others know how capable you are even better than you know yourself.

Goal: I want to continue gymnastics in college.

Trevor Smith, paraclimbing, Niwot High

The fact that he was born without the lower part of his right arm was no deterrent to Trevor Smith when it comes scrambling, scaling, and basically ascending all the heights that call out to him. As a young child, he climbed up everything at every opportunity. Three years ago, Trevor determined the time was right to pursue rock-climbing in earnest. “It was all self-driven,” he said. “I bought a copy of The Rockclimber’s Training Manual, created a training plan on my own, and started connecting with the local climbing community.” Within two years, not only had the IB student established himself as a formidable talent, he took second place at the 2018 IFSC Paraclimbing World Championships in Innsbruck, Australia.

Typical routine:  My training fluctuates depending on the season and goals, but typically I’ll train Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for about four hours each session, aiming to really push myself to the max. Those days need to be really productive. On the ‘off’ days, I’ll go to the gym if I can, but I don’t put the pressure on myself for the same kind of explosive workouts. If I have something coming up, like a test, I won’t go to the gym that day. There’s lots of late night homework.

School support: My teachers have been really flexible, helpful and accommodating. Last year, I really dug a hole for myself traveling to the World Championships. But my teachers all worked with me to make sure I was able to get myself caught up.

Personal tip: Between sports and school life, it’s important there’s balance. Don’t focus all on one. Either can flip on a dime. You can have an injury that can cost your entire career. Be in equilibrium.

Goal: I plan to medal at Nationals in March. Next, the World Championships will be in Tokyo in August. I’m looking at Paris Olympics, 2024. Outside of sport, my goal is to be an aerospace engineer.