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Doug Robinson: For Harpers, winning state titles runs in the family

Published: Friday, May 31 2013 1:10 p.m. MDT

Krystal Harper, Cheryl Harper, Kenneth "Hawk" Harper, Summer Harper, Amber Andrews and Golden Harper, left to right, run together near their Runner's Corner store Friday, May 24, 2013, in Orem.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Family legend has it that Utah’s First Family of Running began when Mom and Dad literally bumped into each other on the track at BYU.

Cheryl Howlett, a freshman on the BYU cross country and track teams, was running one direction, and Ken “Hawk” Harper, an accomplished road racer who was training with BYU runners, was running in the opposite direction when they collided. Nothing much happened, except apologies, but at Harper’s request a mutual friend wrote her number on a napkin. A week later he drove three hours to Pocatello to watch her run in a cross-country race and to ask her out. They married 11 months later.

He was 35, she was 19, and running, which provided their introduction, became the nexus of their family. When the kids came along — Golden, Amber, Krystal and Summer — they naturally followed in their parents' waffled footsteps.

Everything they did involved running. It became the family hobby, vacation, vocation, exercise and gathering point. It is only a happy sidebar or byproduct that they succeeded in competition in a way maybe no other family of runners can match, the result of young driven personalities. Every child has won at least one high school state championship in either or both cross country and track, and earned a college scholarship.

Golden won two state cross country championships at Orem High and went on to run at BYU. After serving a mission for the LDS Church, he transferred to BYU-Hawaii, where he won a conference championship in the 10,000-meter run and produced the 15th fastest collegiate time in the nation that year.

Amber won 12 state championships and at one time ranked No. 1 in the nation in the junior competition (19 and under) in cross country and the 3,000-meter steeplechase (she won one of her cross-country titles on the same course that her mother accomplished the feat, 20 years to the day). Amber competed for BYU.

Krystal won five state championships and recently finished her collegiate career at Utah Valley University with a conference championship at 10,000 meters.

Summer, who just finished her high school career at Orem, won one state title in cross country and holds the distinction of having finished second five times — thrice in the 3,200-meter run, all to different rivals, once in the 1,600-meter run and once in cross country. She did this even though she ran faster every year, as fast or faster than her sisters in high school. She will run for Weber State in the fall.

Counting the five titles Cheryl won at Alta High in 1979 and 1980, the Harpers can claim 25 state championships. This is to say nothing of the races they won on the road or in collegiate competition. Hawk, who is 66 and still runs 50 miles a week despite a right knee replacement and a left knee that was damaged by a fall on the trail, estimates he has won 75 races and completed 75 marathons and several ultra-marathons.

The attic of the Harpers' house is filled with boxes of trophies. Only first-place trophies were displayed in the house for the simple reason there wasn’t enough room for all of them.

“Running has been a family thing for us,” says Hawk.

None of this would’ve happened if Hawk hadn’t had a weight problem or if he hadn’t literally bumped into the girl with the long curly blond hair and toothy smile.

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