Drake Relays News

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-Arizona St
©Jim Kirby

Memories From the Drake Relays: Shelby Houlihan

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-ASU ©Sun Devils Athletics

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-ASU
©Sun Devils Athletics

Shelby Houlihan was a 9 time Drake Relays champion and 8 time State champion at Sioux City East.  She was a NCAA 1500M champion and 10 time All American at Arizona State.  She finished 2nd in the 5,000M at the 2016 US Olympic Trials and 11th in the 5,000M Olympic final in Rio.

What may be a normal pre-race experience to others competing at the Drake Relays, this familiar pre-race experience is one of my favorites. I spend the hour before my race going through my warm up routine. After my warm up, I head to the check-in tents behind the stands and wait for them to call my name and give me my hip numbers. As they line us up to walk down to the track, my heart starts pumping with adrenaline and excitement. Every time I walk on to that track, I can’t help but smile. As we walk around the track to the start line, I can hear people cheering for me. I stay focused and I keep looking straight ahead. I probably don’t know most of these people shouting my name, but I do know that I don’t want to let them down. I line up on the start line on that familiar blue track and wait for Mike Jay to introduce the field. Everything feels the same except for perhaps, the jersey that I wear. This is one of my favorite places to be. This is my home and these are my people. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and appreciate this moment.

Throughout high school, the Drake Relays was THE track meet. It was where the best kids in Iowa ran against each other, regardless of division. It was more important to me than any other meet in high school and still is one of the most important meets to me even though I don’t always get to compete there as much as I would like. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I have some of my best memories from this track meet even though the outcome of the race may not have always been what I had wanted. The athletes that I competed against, there, helped teach me how to lose, how to compete, how to use every ounce of myself, how to stay humble when I was able to win, and ultimately, how to love this sport. I am a better athlete for the variety of outcomes that I had at the Drake Relays and I am grateful for the opportunities that I was given to compete there.

Kyle Kepler-Utah
©Jim Kirby

Memories From the Drake Relays: Kyle Kepler

Kyle Kepler-Utah ©Utes Athletics

Kyle Kepler-Utah
©Utes Athletics

Kyle Kepler.  Graduate of Webster City High School and the University of Northern Iowa.  Coached at UNI and is now the Head Coach of Women’s Cross Country and Track and Field at the University of Utah:

From a big picture point of view for me it starts with the fact that there have been 107 editions of America¹s Athletic Classic.  The 108th edition will feature only the 12th different meet director (Congrats Blake!).

Think about that fact and realize it for what it really means.  What other track and field meet, let alone annual sporting event, can claim that type of stability and tradition?  My guess is not many.  Plus, look at the names of the previous directors.  That is a Hall of Fame all by itself!

You know a Drake regular by one simple stat, they tell you how many consecutive relays they have been to.  My number is 27 and counting.  You know their age if they know who said, ³if everyone sits, everyone sees. That answer, is of course, the legendary Jim Duncan. I realize the Master’s Golf Tournament (held only a few weeks earlier each year) has coined the term, “A tradition unlike any other.   However, I believe this is a perfect explanation, particularly for an Iowan who grew up attending and/or competing at the Relays.

There are lots a great traditions celebrated in Iowa each year:  State Fair Food, Knoxville Nationals, and RAGBRAI just to name a few.  As a high schooler Drake means no classes.  It is the best of the best in the state.  It’s basketball in Indiana.  Being successful in that environment changes lives forever.

Regardless of whether you were an athlete competing, a family member supporting, or a coach mentoring, everyone has their Drake Moment.  Mine is finishing fifth in the 3200 meter run as a high school sophomore after being the last qualifier.  In many ways that probably wasn¹t just a athletic defining moment, but probably a life defining moment for me.

Another was of my mom watching me compete as a collegian in the 10K with my grandma. They left my very ill grandpa to watch me run that race so they could return home late that night to tell him I ran what is still my life time best to this day.  He passed only hours later.

As a collegiate coach I’ve been fortunate enough to celebrate victory three times.  Twice with distance medley relays teams (including last years group) and one individual in the 1500 meter race.  There aren’t too many things better than watching your athletes get their flags and run their victory lap.  Those are moments that are forever for them and for

Having the Iowa connection that I have probably leads to a slightly different Relays experience for my student athletes than the other non Iowa schools.  Between the officials wishing them luck, telling them stories about their coach, and hearing cheers from fans in a way that only the Iowa schools typically receive creates a unique away from home environment not present at our other meets.

Sometimes I worry too much attention is being thrown in my direction due to all my connections to the Relays.  But ultimately, I think my athletes understand I want them to experience one of the greatest events in our entire sport and challenge themselves against some of the best athletes in the country in preparation for what they will be seeing at the conference, regional, and national levels only weeks later.


Randy Wilson-Knoxville-Oklahoma
©Jim Kirby 2016

Memories From the Drake Relays: Randy Wilson

Randy Wilson-Knoxville-Oklahoma-Sub 4 Minute Miler and 1980 Olympian

Randy Wilson-Knoxville-Oklahoma-Sub 4 Minute Miler and 1980 Olympian

Randy Wilson was a state champion at Knoxville HS in Cross Country, the Mile and High Hurdles.   He went to an award winning collegiate career at the University of Oklahoma.  Wilson earned numerous All American honors for the Sooners and is still the only Big 8/Big 12 athlete to win 4 indoor conference championships in the 1,000.  Wilson set the Drake Relays Invitational 800 record, 1:45.86, in 1978.  Randy made the 1980 Olympic team in the 800, only to have his dream shattered as the USA participated in the Olympic Games boycott.


My first Drake Relays, 1968


I was an 8th grader at Knoxville, and my Mom and I rode the Continental Trailways bus to Des Moines on Friday night, then took a taxi to a family friends house. We stayed the night there and the next day I rode the city bus to Drake Stadium, bought my ticket, and watched my first Drake Relays! I went by myself, and my main objective was to see the great Jim Ryan run. He did not disappoint as the Jayhawks won the Distance Medley that day with Ryan running a sub 4 minute mile to secure the win.

Nearly a half decade later, the Relays are still very special to me. Working as an official the past few years I am truly honored to be a small part of America’s Athletic Classic. This year also marks the 39th year that my 800 Invitational record has stood the test of time. The 1:45.86 that I ran as an Oklahoma Sooner is one of the fondest memories of my running career. I certainly hope that somewhere along the line there was a young boy or girl that saw one of my races at Drake, then set a goal to compete at that level someday., like I did that afternoon in 1968.


Randy Wilson

Drake Relays Hall of Fame