Every race has its own meaning. To those running and attending Century High School’s cross-country invitational Friday, the race served as a memory and path to follow.
Up in the hills of the East Fork Mink Creek Nordic Center, local student-athletes gathered for a race they knew would be difficult.
Steep terrain, high temperatures and a long-distance separated the start from the finish, but racers had a little extra to run for Friday.
“Yeah it was hard, it was a hard race, but I feel like, you know, now that I’ve done it I can say anyone can do it,” Century senior Emily Reddish said. “And if they think of Blake and all of the things he did, I feel like you can get through a lot more things than you think you can.”
Blake Stephens was part of Century High School’s first senior class, a member of its first cross-country team and the first person who qualified to go to state.
After high school, Stephens joined the military and was killed in action in 2007.
On Friday, the innovational race was renamed in his honor.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Blake’s brother Derek said. “Yeah, I get really emotional,” sister Brittani Hobson said. “It’s really hard when people recognize our brother. cause, to us, we miss him every single day.”
His siblings remember Blake as a solider, long before he enlisted.
“He was definitely a badass,” Derek said.
And an independent leader that drew attention from all that knew him, even his older brother.
“Secretly, especially when we were young, I looked up to him,” he said.
The top seven finishers in Friday’s race each got a t-shirt with an image of Blake on it. But it’s not just any picture.
“That was the day he left to go to Iraq,” Brittani said. “That was the morning run before and there was over 4,000 soldiers that were leaving and they asked him to hold the battalion flag.”
But his Derek said he thinks Blake made sure his hands were on the flag.
“Bet you anything, he had to be in the front,” Derek said.
The path Blake left has many wanting to follow in his footsteps.
“After learning about Blake and how we dedicated this to him, I feel like I want to be more like Blake and try and reach out to others and try and run my best and I think that’s really important,” Reddish said.
Now, the event will bring his siblings back each year to remember their fallen brother.
“He would love it,” Britanni said.