Part five of a 12-day series profiling each member of the 2012 Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame, leading up to the induction ceremonies on Thursday, Nov. 15. Today's profile is on Alan Culpepper, two-time Olympian and seven-time CU cross country/track & field All-American. Click here for more information and to register for the 2012 induction ceremony.
The love for running began at an early age for Alan Culpepper. He first recognized his love for the sport at his elementary school in El Paso, Texas. Twice a year, Culpepper would line up with his classmates to run the mile for presidential fitness tests.
|Alan Culpepper was the 1996 NCAA 5,000 meter champion
“That for me was the first indication of like, ‘Alright, I like this and it’s my day’ and I would go out and set the school record and all that,” Culpepper recalls. “That was my first taste of running hard.”
Culpepper is the youngest of three boys, and although his father, Stan Culpepper, ran at Texas Christian University, Alan was the only son who enjoyed running. His two older brothers turned to basketball and baseball, but team sports never really interested Culpepper.
“I’ve always been pretty independent-minded and self-motivated. Running really brought that out for me, allowed it to flourish,” he said. “Team sports were really always frustrating. I always felt kind of held back by different coaches’ styles, that kind of thing.”
In high school, Culpepper set multiple district records that still stand in El Paso. He was a five-time Texas state champion and ranked first in the nation in the 1,500-meters with a time of 3:50.
Although he was also recruited by the Universities of Texas and Arizona, Culpepper chose to run for the University of Colorado and became a Buff in 1992.
“[My decision] ultimately came down to two factors: my belief in coach Jerry Quiller and his being able to support a smooth transition from high school to college and all that process entails, as well as my fondness of Boulder,” Culpepper described. “I knew that ultimately this is where I could see myself and the beauty and culture of Boulder was very attractive to me.”
Culpepper excelled as a runner at CU. He lettered in cross country and indoor and outdoor track. He was a seven-time All-American, earning three of the honors in cross country and four in track.
His first honor on the track was in 1994 in the 1,500-meter run. The last three came during his senior season in 1996. He earned two All-American honors during the indoor season in the mile and the 3,000-meter run and earned the last of his honors in the spring of 1996 in the 5,000-meter run. In the same season, Culpepper set a record that still stands at CU in the 1,500-meter with a time of 3:39.77 and capped off his years at CU as the NCAA champion in the 5,000-meter run.
Culpepper’s success at the University of Colorado was only a sign of what was to come. He turned pro after graduation and, unlike many professional athletes, decided to coach himself. He negotiated his own endorsement contracts and created his own training schedules and workouts.
The highlights of Alan’s professional career came when he qualified for the Olympics on two separate occasions. He represented the United States in Sydney in 2000 and in Athens in 2004. Culpepper describes running in the Olympics as some of his most special memories.
“Making the first Olympic team was just incredibly special because it was a goal I wrote down when I was, like, 15 years old and it took 15 years to get there and accomplish that,” Culpepper described. “Making that second Olympic team was special because I won the [Olympic] trials and I was able to put my name in the history books in that regard. Those two [memories] were the most unique just because there is so much build up to Olympic years and they only come every four years. Everything just has to come together on that particular day to make the team.”
Culpepper finished 17th in the 10,000-meter run in Sydney and 12th in the marathon in Athens.
|Two-time Olympian Alan Culpepper has won seven US national titles.
Running at an elite level didn’t come as a surprise to Culpepper. He wrote an essay in sixth grade about competing in the 2000 Olympics and pushed towards his goal throughout high school and college.
“It was ingrained in me by my high school coach who said I would be my best in 10 years,” he explained. “All through college, through injuries and the ups and downs, I had the conviction that I’d be competing at a high level.”
Although Culpepper says the Olympics are some of his best memories, he has a tremendous number of additional accomplishments to add to his resume, including being a seven-time U.S. champion throughout his professional career. When he began running the marathon in 2002, his time of 2:09.41 in Chicago tied him for the fastest American debut in U.S. history. In 2005, his fourth place finish in the Boston Marathon was the highest finish for an American in 20 years. The next year, he finished fifth in the Boston Marathon and won the Denver Half-Marathon.
Now, 16 years after he ran for CU, Culpepper runs purely for fitness. He stopped running competitively in 2008 and takes the time to enjoy life with his four children and wife, fellow Olympian and CU graduate and letterwinner, Shayne (Willie).
Although they had their children during the height of their careers, they never put running first. They take turns doing their daily workouts and when either of them crosses the finish line, the rest of the family is always waiting on the other side.
“That’s one of the other benefits of being a professional athlete,” Culpepper said in 2008. “We’ve been able to stay home a lot, spend a lot of time with our children.”
Alan and Shayne have spent the last four springs leading an after-school running program at Boulder’s Douglass Elementary School. Once a week in April and early May, they lead over 200 kids on a half-mile course around the school. Culpepper says he does it just to get kids out and running.
“By getting them out moving, [we are] hopefully changing their perception of what exercise is and that it doesn’t have to be torture and it doesn’t have to be punishment or only about weight management.”
In 2010, Culpepper also began working for the Competitor Group, a company that puts on marathons around the country.
“I am one of the directors of operations and I get to design marathon courses and go into various cities and put on big, large-scale, world-class events.” He is primarily in charge of designing many of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon race courses.
Looking back on his career, Culpepper really has no regrets.
“Aside from a few things, I really accomplished more than I could have ever dreamt,” he said. “It was pretty amazing.”