O’Keefe: A Runner’s Odyssey

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Richard O’Keefe ’20 leads the field at an early cross country race. Photo by David Barron.

As a 7th grader running cross country, Richard O’Keefe’s best 5K time was 27 minutes flat—by no means bad, but certainly far from elite. 

“I didn’t give up, and I was determined to improve,” O’Keefe said. 

Over the next six years, he pushed through difficult hill workouts, the kind that made his muscles scream, but at the same time also made him fitter. During interval training, he dug deep, kicking his legs as fast as they could go—faster even than he thought he was capable of.

As a freshman, upon finishing one long running workout, O’Keefe suddenly realized that he had more than enough energy left in his tank. He easily passed his then-assistant coach David Cutler, running alongside him, putting in a 6:03 pace for the last leg of a 10-mile run. 

“I always knew that Richard had natural athletic talent, but it was at that moment that I also knew how hard he was willing to push himself,” Cutler, recalls. “I loved how he left me in his dust.” 

Over the next three years, O’Keefe continued to push through tough workouts, even in the pouring rain.

“Back in 7th grade, I never thought I’d get to this point,” O’Keefe said. “I would look at the top runners, especially one particular runner who finished about 20 seconds faster than the others, and think to myself, ‘I’ll never get that fast.’ But now I have surpassed that runner’s record by 10 seconds.”

By his senior year, O’Keefe grew into not only one of the fastest runners on the team, but also one of the fastest runners in School history. As a seventh grader, his first timed mile clocked in at 11:27. For his final season, though, he cut that by more than half to 5:11—placing him among the top-25 milers in team history. 

“Richard was very consistent this season,” Varsity Boys Coach Paul Brauchle said.
“He acted as an anchor for the team and scored really well all year.”

As co-captain this season, O’Keefe inspired his teammates to do their best, leading them to a league title.

“I admire him and look up to him every time I see him run, and he’s had a huge impact on this team,” Zakkai Mares-Van Praag ’22 said.

“As a freshman, seeing Richard’s growth as a cross country runner helped to motivate me to be my best during the season,” Edan Zinn ’23 said. 

As of now, O’Keefe doesn’t plan to run competitively in college. But he knows that the work he put into cross country is transferable to whatever he encounters.

“Cross country is a lot like life,” O’Keefe said. “You get out of it what you put in. I’ll take this with me wherever I go.”

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