Running on the beach this time of year has become a tradition for the Stockdale cross country team, as the athletes have escaped the Bakersfield heat to participate in the Morro Bay Invitational in five of the past six years. The only exception was last year, when the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this year’s run is a bit more special, landing on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Mustangs girls coach Bree Tape wanted to commemorate the historic date with her team’s annual pilgrimage to the coast.
“This popped into my head two weeks ago,” said Tape, who was struck with the idea while running at the beach with her assistant coach Kim Roberts last week after the team competed in Arroyo Grande. “I realized it was 9/11, and we just said, ‘let’s do this,’ and kind of just got the ball rolling. But just to be able to pay tribute on a special day will be great.”
In past years, after competing against other high schools in the 3-mile race, Tape typically gives her team the option of a bonus activity, running approximately six miles from nearby Morro Rock to the Cayucos Pier, where the runners can enjoy some downtime and lunch before heading to the scorching temperatures back home.
This year, Tape has measured out a few extra steps, making the combined run 9.11 miles — or as close as possible — and even printed shirts for her squad that say “Never Forget, 9.11 for 9/11.”
“It kind of dawned on me that we ask these kids to run this extra (stretch) and I thought this might be a way to encourage the kids to make the run,” said Tape, who also provides a bus to runners who decide not to make the extra trek, but expects at least 30 athletes and coaches to participate in the bonus run. “So I thought it sounded kind of like a fun thing.”
Boys cross country coach Tyus Thompson is excited to participate, having the unique perspective of doing so as an athlete and now as a coach.
“We’ve done this run for as long as I can remember, and so I think being able to tie it in (to 9/11 is great),” said Thompson, who was in kindergarten when the terrorist attacks happened in 2001. “Just being able to have a talking moment before the meet and before the run, just to reiterate just how lucky we are to be able to run in a race like this, and then be able to have the opportunity to just be able to run freely on the beach and be with each other. I think that helps reflect the moment for these kids.”
For seniors, such as Kaitlyn Lavarias and Avery Ontiveros, being able to run is exciting in itself after being limited to a three-week spring season due to the pandemic. The addition of the 9/11 run makes it extra special in their minds.
“It’s very special and a really cool idea,” Lavarias said. “It’s a nice way to honor the men and women (who lost their lives in the attacks). I wasn’t born yet when this happened, but you learn about it every year in school and it’s something we talk about. I think it’s just very special to be a part of this.”
Ontiveros has similar emotions about the event.
“It’s such an important part of our history, and since it’s really important to Coach Tape, I wanted to do it in support of her and her husband, and the event in general,” Ontiveros said.
Although her athletes have only seen the event through archived footage the past several years, Tape vividly remembers the infamous date, just a few weeks after starting a position as a math teacher at Stockdale.
“I distinctly remember it was my first year teaching and sitting in my classroom (when I found out),” said Tape, who also remembers current Mustangs football coach Brett Shelton being a student in her class at the time. “Basically, I just flipped on the television instead of teaching my math class that day.”
While running nine-plus miles may not sound like fun, Tape, Roberts and Thompson all plan to run alongside their teams. Although Thompson has given himself an out if needed, after recently battling through a sore right knee suffered in an ultra-marathon in July, he's going to give it a try.
“I ran five miles the other day and felt pretty good, so I should be alright, but I don’t plan on racing any of the kids,” Thompson said with a laugh. “They don’t want to get beat by me, and I don’t want to look like a fool if I get beat. But I definitely plan on going out there, and it’s always fun. It’s good to get away from the heat, and nice to run on the beach along with everything else planned.”
Although the initial plan to connect the running with 9/11 was designed as more of an incentive for her team, the idea became more meaningful for Tape as the plans began to develop. Her thoughts turned to her father, Tim Denison, who retired after a 36-year career with the Los Angeles City Fire Department, and to her husband, Jeff Tape, a Kern County firefighter, bringing thoughts of all those whose lost their lives on 9/11 to a much more personal level.
“It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart, needless to say,” Tape said. “It’s a way to support what they do.”