Kutoven Stevens Is Chasing His Oregon Dream

"I like to raise awareness because that raises awareness for not just me but for others. It hits home pretty hard. After ever race, I try to wear my Native American flag. That's my flag." -- Kutoven Stevens

By Cory Mull - Milesplit

Kutoven Stevens chased a dream in Sparks, Nevada, on Saturday. 

And he was faster than he ever was, nearly a full minute in front of the next closest competitor at the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association State Class 2A Cross Country Championships, nearly a full minute better than he was in this same place two years ago, when that same dream seemed so far out of reach. 

He's a state champion now. The best in the state. 

But it's funny how time gives you perspective.

Stevens, 18, isn't the same teenager that he was back then, not even close to it. He embraces his identity as a Native American, as a member of the Paiute Tribe in Yerington, where he is the single runner on his high school cross country team. 

But he's more than a runner, too. 

Over the last year, Stevens has found himself, and his personal history. In August, he held the Remembrance Run, a 50-mile journey set to imitate the road his great-grandfather Frank 'Togo' Quinn took escaping from the Stewart Boarding School as a Native American close to 100 years ago. A documentary crew from New York City followed him on his journey. 

This past summer taught Stevens what legacy truly means, how the suffering and pain of his great ancestors may have made him as strong as he is right now. 

"I get motivation from a lot of things in my life," Stevens said recently. "It's definitely a personal thing. I like to run for a lot of things in the world. One of the main things I run for is just the awareness of Native American history and what has happened to us in the past, what still effects us today with generations of trauma.

"I like to raise awareness because that raises awareness for not just me but for others. It hits home pretty hard. After ever race, I try to wear my Native American flag. That's my flag." 

And yet, Stevens knows what he aspires to be, too, as an athlete. He wants to become the fastest distance runner in Nevada history. He wants to earn an elusive scholarship to the University of Oregon, his dream school from birth. 

"To go to a legendary program, or just to run on the same ground as past heroes like Steve Prefontaine, Ashton Eaton, Galen Rupp, it's humbling," he said. "I've run on the Prefontaine Trail. That was his mark on the world. That was his legacy. I feel like going to a big school like Oregon isn't only a good opportunity as a runner, but is a great opportunity as a human being to help change this world and bring my world and my wisdom to that campus." 

When National Signing Day begins on November 10, Stevens won't be signing with Oregon, though. 

Right now, the senior from Yerington believes he has only just grasped the true beginnings of his potential. This state championship on Saturday was a start. 

Stevens ran 16:28.00 for 5K at the Shadow Mountain Course in Reno at 4,400 feet of elevation. It was the fastest time of any runner at the state meet -- in fact, it was the only time under 17 minutes. 

Earlier this year, he dropped a personal record time of 14:28.50 for three miles at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, finishing top 20 in that race. He also ran 15:29.00 for 5K in October at 4,295 feet of elevation. 

In his eyes, though, that's not what's going to set him apart. That ultimately won't open the eyes of Oregon coaches. 

Stevens will be chasing the sub-4 mile this spring, he says. He's aspiring to break 9 minutes for 3,200 meters -- in fact, he's looking to break 8:50. 

Nevada's all-time record for 1,600m is 4:10.53 and for 3,200m its 8:59.55.

"I'll say right now that I'm guaranteeing that," Stevens says of those two records. "If I don't hit that, that's on me. But if any coaches hear this and think I'm lying, they're going to regret this. I have the motivation and the will power and the training to do so." 

Stevens knows that path won't be an easy one. Only 11 high school boys in history have broken four minutes. A total of 69 athletes have dropped a time under 8:50 all-time, too. 

"I don't want to be overlooked anymore," he said. "Coming from a small school like Yerington, which doesn't produce great runners, they underestimate us." 

Stevens says he's already emailed Oregon head distance coach Ben Thomas. He's filled out an initial college application, too. 

A scholarship is ultimately what he's striving for, because it would represent the idea that he's reached the pinnacle of the sport. 

"I'll say right now that I'm guaranteeing that. If I don't hit that, that's on me. But if any coaches hear this and think I'm lying, they're going to regret this. I have the motivation and the will power and the training to do so." 

Even though Stevens will likely be admitted to Oregon without it -- he owns a 3.8 GPA and is ninth in his high school -- and could earn tuition reimbursement due to his Native American ancestry, that is far from the goal. 

Stevens wants to become the ideal Oregon recruit. He wants his times to represent his standing. 

"It's a symbolic thing," Stevens said. "Getting a scholarship, it's more than just getting a pocket full of money. It's like everything you've been working for is paying off quite literally. It's a really big accomplishment for any runner. You're running for that scholarship." 

Stevens doesn't want his parents to have to pay for any of his schooling. His father, Delmar, is a social worker for the state of Nevada, while his mother Misty is a stay at home mom. 

Both have watched their son find his identity and grow dramatically over the last year. The past year, following his great grandfather's roots, they saw Stevens blossom as a man and a future leader. It will be the kind of long-lasting memory that everyone from the family will carry for the years to come. 

"I have a lot of people in my life who support me, most notably my parents," Stevens said. "They want to see me succeed. It's a fulfilling thing to see their kid succeed. I draw a lot of motivation from them, to make them proud." 

There's also Stevens' independent coach, Lupe Cabada, who coaches at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno, a Class 5A school in Nevada. 

For the past year, he's been training with the team. In fact, Stevens has driven 70 miles west of the state, three times a week, to work with Cabada and the team. Some of his 'teammates' have even held dinners for Stevens, welcoming him in as one of their own. 

About a year back, during the pandemic, Stevens went to a meet by himself, just to see how top Nevada runners were competing on a regional course. He wasn't signed up. 

But after the race, he decided to go full beast-mode on the course. He hammered it, coming up just a second or two short of the top time that day -- on his own. 

Cabada saw him. The pair later spoke. 

"I ran by him with lightning fast speed," Stevens said. "He said to me, 'Were you that guy?' Why don't you practice with us? That begun our friendship, our coaching bond. He's my coach at this point." 

It goes without saying at this point that as Stevens has gone, so too has Cabada. If the Yerington senior is going to have any chance at breaking four and going after 8:50, his coach from Damonte Ranch will have a big hand in it. 

"I make that drive three times a week," Stevens said. "It shows the amount of dedication I have for this sport and what I'm willing to get done." 

If it leads to Oregon, all the better. 

Stevens has a small back-up plan, he says. His secondary school is the University of Nevada, Reno, a program that looks to be building in recent years. The coach has even reached out to him, Stevens says. 

But it won't come without first pursuing his dream to the fullest extent. 

Perhaps we should end this with a story from August. 

During Stevens' Remembrance Run, that 50-mile trek through the Nevada mountains and desert, he found himself on the journey alone at some point. 

Like any runner, he began to pound the road by himself. He could hear the cadence of his feet with every step. 

That moment perhaps gave him a sense of duality and duty, as it both traced back the journey his great-grandfather once took but also reminded him of the path ahead. 

While he's still chasing his dreams, he hasn't achieved his primary objectives just yet. Oregon is calling. 

"We ran to re-trace Frank's steps," Stevens said. "I'll remember it forever." 

Related Links: 

For more on the documentary that profiles Stevens' journey through the Nevada Desert, and his quest to take the same path his great-grandfather once did, visit Remaining Native, a documentary that captures that story.

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