Family matters: Culpeppers balance running careers, parenthood

Updated: February 8, 2007, 6:32 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Shayne Culpepper doesn't commit to anything without consulting her desktop calendar.

Everything is meticulously scribbled on it -- the precise training schedules for her and her husband, Alan, massages, scheduled appearances, upcoming running races and parent-teacher conferences.

The calendar is well organized and well maintained. It's the only way to keep pace with the family's frenetic schedules as the Culpeppers juggle their running careers with raising two kids -- Cruz, 4, and Levi, 8 months.

"She loves that calendar," Alan said. "We're always where we need to be."

But this week has been especially hectic. Shayne and Alan are participating in the 2007 USA Cross Country Championships on Saturday in Boulder and friends and family galore are arriving in for the elite event.

The calendar is booked solid with engagements. Thursday's entries had a press conference for the event in the morning, immediately followed by a meeting to decide whether Cruz is ready for kindergarten. A massage was scheduled, a quick run for both of them and then grocery shopping for dinner.

"It's wacky," Shayne said of the schedule. "But we make it work. We definitely put the family first. That keeps us happy and grounded. If you're family life is in order, running comes easier."

Shayne is just getting back into the competitive running scene after taking time off after Levi's birth. The two-time Olympian is one of America's top female middle-distance runners and recently showed she hasn't lost a step when she finished second in the indoor mile at the Reebok Invitational in Boston on Jan. 27. She turned in a time of 4:31.35.

"Not too bad for the first time out," Shayne said.

Shayne knows she'll have her work cut out for her Saturday. The 8-kilometer race is not her event and the field is as strong as it's ever been. It includes 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor, who's also won seven USA Cross Country titles, including five in a row from 1999-2003.

"I think it's the greatest collection of U.S. distance runners ever to show up for one day at a race," event organizer Pete Julian said. "But don't overlook those two. They (the Culpeppers) could walk away with two championships."

Alan won the event in 1999 and 2003 but hasn't competed in it the last three years due to prior commitments. He's looking forward to the break from his marathon training. He hasn't run competitively since "completing the 20-mile version" of the New York City Marathon, where he had to pull out with a stomach ailment.

"At this point, I want to keep things fresh," said Culpepper, who, along with his wife, is a graduate of the University of Colorado. "This will be like getting back to my roots. Cross country isn't quite as daunting as marathon training."

Trying to find time to train, though, while raising two kids is challenging. But the Culpeppers have found a way to merge the two, even hiring an au pair who helps out every once in a while. It's a matter of being organized and always looking ahead.

"First and foremost we want to be good parents," Alan said. "But we want to do our jobs well. The kids keep us sane. You have to be incredibly focused on running. If you're not, someone else will be. But you can't smother it and overanalyze everything. Our kids help us balance running with reality."

The two met through running. Alan was a fifth-year senior for the Buffaloes and Shayne had just transferred in from Vermont. It took him a while to get up the nerve to ask her out.

"He thought I was a freshman," she said with a laugh.

They're used to juggling their individual schedules, but it took some work when Cruz came along. And even more work after Levi was born.

"When we had Cruz, one of us would give him a bath and read him stories while the other recovered on the couch," Alan said. "Now, we both have to give baths and read bedtime stories. We're learning along the way."

Shayne knew having kids in the middle of a running career was a big risk. Some never regain their form after the birth of a child.

Glancing out the window of her Lafayette home, Shayne watched as Cruz hit golf balls in the front yard.

"If I wasn't able to return, it would've been well worth it," Shayne said. "I've been fortunate to be able to have the family and the career."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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