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Cover Story

Beat Stoy Yeager

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Beat Stoy Yeager. That’s all I heard for about two years.

Coach Pupke caught me after school the second day of eighth grade at Lincoln Junior High. “Hey, wait up,” he began. “Have you ever thought about going out for track?”

“Maybe,” I said. My brothers were both all-stars in high school track. I thought about following in their footsteps.

“Well, you’d make a great distance runner,” he continued. “You’ve got long legs and deep lungs.” (Apparently that’s a compliment among track people.) “You could letter this year and probably make the district all-star team.”

That’s what I wanted to hear. I was almost convinced that I should go for it, until he said, “Besides, we need someone who can beat Stoy Yeager.”

“Who’s Stoy Yeager?” I asked.

“He attends Cascade Junior High,” the coach informed me. “He’s the best distance runner in the district. He won every race last year. Nobody even came close to him. We can win the district title this year if we can find some way to beat Stoy Yeager. You have to go out for track this year and beat Stoy Yeager.”

Stoy Yeager was the goal. He was the standard by which all other 13-year-old distance runners in Lane County were measured. I’d hear the other runners talk among themselves:

“How’s your time in the mile?” one would ask.

“Oh, I’m only 12 seconds behind Stoy Yeager,” was a typical answer. I never heard anyone say, “I beat Stoy Yeager.” It was always, “I almost beat Stoy Yeager.”

All year long I trained to beat Stoy Yeager. I studied how to beat him until I knew how to beat him.

The trick was to stay right behind him for the first two laps. This would force him out of his normal pace and wear him down a bit. Then just past the first corner of the third lap I’d pour it on and pass him. This would wear him down even more. After that, I’d just stay ahead. He would be too tired to catch me.


Each race became a rehearsal to beat Stoy Yeager. At my first two track meets I took third place in the mile. I took second at the next meet, and I beat Bob Scoggins, the top runner on our team. In the fourth meet I won the mile.

Then Bob told me, “OK, you’re ready to take on Stoy.”

The next meet was against Cascade, and I was finally going to go for the goal: beat Stoy Yeager.

I stepped up to the starting line next to Stoy. We shook hands and wished each other luck. The gun sounded, and we were off. I knew my strategy well: stay with him and force him out of his comfortable pace. I had, however, misjudged the difference between his comfortable pace and my rapid pace. After the first lap all I saw of Stoy was the red cinder flying off of his cleats.

That race haunted me. I couldn’t forget that I lost to Stoy Yeager.

After track season ended I quit running. My one year of track was enough. I’d tried. I’d failed. I didn’t want to try again, because all I could think of was coming in second behind Stoy Yeager.

But ninth grade came, and it was a new year. Who do you think caught me after school about the second day?

“You going out for track again this year?” Coach Pupke asked.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” I mumbled. “I think I’ll try basketball instead.”

“Oh, good,” he said. “Basketball is a great way to stay in shape for track. Besides,” he reminded me, “basketball season is over before track starts. I think this is your year to beat Stoy Yeager. You got better each meet, you know. Think how fast you’ll be this year.”

He convinced me that my call in life was to beat Stoy Yeager, so I started running again. I discovered a couple of things about track (and life) that year.

First, I learned that you can’t run very far looking backward. You’ll fall down. I had to forget about last year. Stoy had beat me. That’s the way it was. I couldn’t change that. But I could possibly change the outcome of our next race.

Second, I learned to take small steps forward. I knew that Stoy’s best time in the mile was 4:50. My best was 4:57. I had to knock seven seconds off my time, plus whatever Stoy gained that year. I set small goals. First I hit 4:55; then 4:52; then 4:50.

The day finally came. I was going to get another shot at Stoy. He had improved that year from 4:50 to 4:48. My best was 4:50, so I knew I was close. The goal was in reach.


Stoy and I stepped up to the line. We shook hands and wished each other luck. The gun sounded, and we were off.

Stoy was as fast as ever, but I kept up with him for the first two laps. We rounded the first corner of the third lap, and I poured it on. I was going to either pass him or pass out.

Midway through the straight stretch I was ahead. I couldn’t believe it. I kept hearing his steps behind me, but I didn’t dare turn around. I just had to keep going.

He tried to sprint past me on the final stretch, but he was too worn down. I beat him 4:45 to 4:46. I reached the goal: beat Stoy Yeager.

Then I learned my third lesson that year. Winning isn’t everything. Attitude is.

Stoy was the first one to congratulate me. As far as I know, he had never lost a race until then. But you couldn’t tell it by the smile on his face and the way he pounded my back and pumped my hand. Stoy was gracious in victory and defeat.

Stoy and I raced several times during the rest of our high school years. He won some, and I won some.

My blue ribbons have faded and gradually disappeared over time. But the lessons I learned from Stoy Yeager will always stay with me. 


This story originally appeared in the August 29, 1992, issue of Insight. At that time Chuck Burkeen was pastor of the Sutherlin, Oregon, Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is now director of the Member Ministry Department in the Oregon Conference. He is also the book A Place for Us Guys.

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