Always ready to help, Galen Rupp gives Sr. Krista von Borstal, executive director of CYO, some pointers. (Courtesy CYO)
Always ready to help, Galen Rupp gives Sr. Krista von Borstal, executive director of CYO, some pointers. (Courtesy CYO)

Famed cross-country coach Alberto Salazar, then a coach at Central Catholic High School in Southeast Portland, heard about freshman athlete Galen Rupp from soccer coach Jim Rilatt.

The kid “could run forever,” said Rilatt.

The students were talking as well.

After soccer season ended, Rupp trained with Salazar for a month and then ran in the Junior Olympics. He finished second in the nation.

Rupp embraced cross-country running.

The world took note and he went on to become one of best long-distance runners in the world, an Olympic champion and holder of many national records. He is also a Catholic who prays the rosary as he runs.

Rupp, 33, the keynote speaker at the 2019 CYO Champions of Faith dinner, gives a lot of credit to the Catholic Youth Organization.

“I couldn’t wait to get to fourth grade, when I could start participating in CYO sports,” he says. “It was the start of running for me. It had such a tremendous impact on my life going forward — all the values and different principles that I was learning there that I’ve really carried with me throughout my career.”

Rupp says he learned about setting goals through CYO, about having discipline, making sacrifices and putting in the work. But first of all, he says, it’s about CYO’s message of keeping God first in your life. “If you have that singular focus to do right by God, that can get you through some tough situations, whether it’s in an individual race or a bad training session,” Rupp says.

Rupp grew up in Southeast Portland, running on Mount Tabor with his mother, who coached his CYO All Saints track team.

Dave Frank, another longtime and respected Central coach, remembers Rupp for his days at the school — “a great student” — for his running career in the years since, and most for his character. “He regularly thanks people on the way,” says Frank. “He’s a humble, honest, caring guy.”

Frank thinks one incident he witnessed particularly shows Rupp’s grace. When Rupp was a freshman at the University of Oregon, he ran crosscountry. After he broke the American junior record at the 10K, he took a victory lap.

“People are chanting his name, he’s the golden child,” says Frank. “He sees a group of CC students, goes over and gives them a hug, and then he’s on to the next group of well-wishers, but he stops to say, ‘Richie, I heard you got into Notre Dame. That is so awesome.’

“So with everyone focused on him, he remembers this guy,” says Frank.

Rupp went on to win the silver medal in the men’s 10,000 meters in the 2012 Olympics, the first American to win a medal in that event since 1964. He took the bronze medal in the men’s marathon in the 2016 Olympics and plans to run in the 2020 Olympics.

“I hope my kids play CYO when they get old enough,” he says. “It’s such a great experience.”

— Kristen Hannum