The Internet Home of Track & Field

curtis beach | 08-09 dyestat boys athlete of the year
This begins the final part of DyeStat's year-end awards for 2008-09, the DyeStat Athletes and Team of the Year. Selections are made by DyeStat editors and are based a combination of multiple major victories/honors won and performances on all-time and yearly lists. Performances from outdoor track, indoor track, and cross-country are taken into account.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Curtis Beach

By SteveU, DyeStat/ESPN RISE Senior Editor
Photos by John Dye, John Nepolitan, Donna Dye, Kirby Lee, submitted by Curtis Beach

When you find yourself on the red carpet at an event like the ESPYs, it’s very easy for your mind to go blank – surrounded by many of the best athletes and most famous celebs, filled with awe and wonder as you take it all in – especially if you’re a high school kid from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Yes, Curtis Beach has enjoyed record after record, accolade after accolade, but this was different, as it surely was for all of the Gatorade national award winners as they walked into the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

But the Albuquerque Academy grad is becoming quite an introspective young man, sees the contexts in things, and he has a great memory, too.  So it’s not surprising that he’s spent plenty of time this summer – before, after, and in-between the Pan-Am Juniors and getting ready to begin his freshman year at Duke University – reflecting on this incredible year, and how the ESPYs symbolized the “transition” between all he’s accomplished and experienced before, and how far he’d still like to go.  Being chosen as DyeStat.com’s 2009 Boys Athlete of the Year, as he has been today, gives him a chance to voice that wonderment, those reflections, those aspirations. 

Plenty of ground has been covered with Beach, however.  You know about how he developed as a young high-schooler in the multis before this year, from his USATF JO battles, to his 4th in the 2007 World Youth octathlon, to his NSIC and Great Southwest titles as a junior.  You’ve read how he transformed his attitude toward the sport this year, as he told DyeStat in February  You marveled at the way he blew away the HS decathlon USR at Arcadia, blasting a mind-numbing 4:09.48 1500 to close out the 7,909 effort.  You followed him as he embraced the goal of holding all three deca records and every other challenge he could find
  • Winning five events at his state meet
  • Successfully going for the “13-event” deca (or Treiskaidecathlon, as it was named on the Dyestat message boards) and senior implement USR at this year’s Great Southwest, then following that with two blistering relay legs the next day
  • Taking on the nation’s best 800 runners at both NSIC and NON, taking 4th and 3rd overall with marks of 1:52.72 and 1:50.75
  • Nailing down his third deca USR at USATF Juniors and finally earning his second international trip
  • Fighting the fatigue of an endless season and a game rival in Gray Horn to win the Pan Am Juniors
And finally, you’ve read his own words about many of his experiences, including spending a day with USATF CEO Doug Logan as he blogged for DyeStat here, here and here.

So you wonder, is there anything you don’t know about Curtis Beach? 

Well, it turns out there is.  The son of David Beach and Jeana King-Beach has plenty of old stories and fresh perspectives that seem to multiply daily, as he grows more in tune with the world around him, meshes his fond memories of coming up in the sport with the present and future, and continues to develop the “life skills” he enjoys talking about.

1. The horse chaser – He was six or seven years old, played a little soccer and basketball, but “didn’t know track existed.”  He lived with his family on a ranch in rural Stanley, New Mexico.  It was there Beach literally discovered the joy of running.  “My grandma had a pasture and she had a pinto horse named Lobo,” he said.  “I remember when I didn’t have anything else to do, I would just tell my mom, I’m going to go out and chase Lobo.  I went out to the pasture, climbed through the barbed wire fence, and just ran and chased him.  It would let me get pretty close to it, then it would take off … then it would let me get close again, then take off.  I would stay out there for an hour-and-a-half or two hours, and I would do that a couple times a week.  Finally, my parent just said, ‘OK, you love running, you’re going to go do track.’”

Beach found other ways to engage his passion.  Coaches in other sports often use “running laps” as punishment and he found ways to manipulate that system in youth soccer.  “I just purposely screwed around, and I asked the coach, ‘Hey, can I just run around the whole soccer complex instead of the field?’  And he was like, ‘Sure, I don’t know why you’d want to.’  But I did, I ran around the whole complex … and he made me do pushups after that.”

2. First a harrier – Beach would spend a year with a club in Moriarity NM, and then began with the Albuquerque TC, working with Ken Woodley and the late Polly Rogers.  Distance running became his early passion, not sprinting or jumping.  “Coach Rogers called me ‘deer boy’ because I grew up walking on my toes and ran whole cross-country races on my toes.  But they didn’t try to break me of that habit; they understood sometimes the best way to run is the way you naturally do.”

Beach progressed very quickly as a harrier.  “I first realized that I was a pretty good runner when I went to Reno NV my older bantam year (2000, age 10) and I got 3rd in the USATF XC.  That was an incredible experience … I’ve just cherished that memory so much.  I had so much fun with that whole year … and it gave me a lot of confidence for the next season on the track.”

With a big laugh, remembers a bit of youthful bravura there that came back on him; his dad being equal to the task.  “I remember telling my parents, ‘Aren’t you glad to you had you had me, because you wouldn’t get to be here in Reno at this cross-country meet otherwise.’  And my dad said, ‘Yeah, we’d be on a cruise with your Aunt Renee; they don’t have kids!”

Beach also became a distance standout on the track, doing 800/1500/long jump triples almost every meet during his early club years.  “I know if a lot of other decathletes heard this, they would say, ‘You did the 800 and 1500 on the same day?’ I almost always did them as hard as I could.  Those events inspire and help me today.  There’s been times when I feel a little fearful before the 1500, but when I think about the great memories from the past, it helps me remain in the right mindset that allows me to compete my best every time.”

3. Coach Jim and the dunking rope jumper – If you see Curtis Beach and countless other track athletes in the Albuquerque area jumping rope at practices or even between events, chances are it can be traced back to Coach Jim Ciccarello.  That’s just one aspect of a unique style of coaching that goes back through 41 years of this physical education teacher’s work with athletes, primarily with the La Cueva Bears girls track team.  Beach’s aunt Sandy Beach, once a collegiate 800 standout herself and since a long-time coaching assistant to Ciccarello, brought him to see her nephew seven years ago, after he’d competed as a youth a few years. 

“He challenged me to do every event from the 100 to the 3000, plus hurdles, high jump, long jump and everything in-between.  He told me, ‘Curtis, you’re going to be more than a distance runner.’  He wanted to expand my repertoire and see what else I could do.  He taught me hurdles and just about everything else.  I’ve really enjoyed working with him over the years.”  Ciccarello’s coaching helped Beach win the 2002 USATF Youth Nationals at Pentathlon. 

Coach Ciccarello recalled that first meeting well.  “He came walking down the track with his fuzzy hair, bright-eyed, and wanted some tips on running the 800,” he cracked.  “I checked him out and saw he had good speed.  I realized if I could get him into the hurdles (Beach, with a laugh: “Coach Ciccarello wants to get everyone into the hurdles), then he could eventually do everything.  He was obsessed with learning how to do everything right.  He struggled a little with the throws at first, but he was 10-events-ready by the time he got to the Academy.  What separates him is that he is driven and self-motivated.  No matter what you ask him to do, he wants to try and do his best at it and beat a record.  And when he gets beat, he doesn’t hang his head, he just looks at what he has to do next time to be better.”

Meanwhile, the jump-roping was another part of the training Beach so embraced that he eventually became part of the Coach Ciccarello’s Bandelier and Whittier Jump Rope Teams, a group of primarily elementary-age kids from two schools that performed around the area, including the halftime of New Mexico Lobo basketball games in front of thousands of fans.  Beach not only came by from time to time to help the kids, but sometimes performed a special routine with them in the public shows, concluding his part of the performance by dunking the jump rope through the hoop.

4. Partner in crime – Beach and Cibola NM grad Dan Gooris – a multi-eventer and vaulter extraordinaire who is a year older than Beach and now at Northern Iowa – may have seemed like friendly rivals when they battled each other at meets like the 2008 NSIC pentathlon, where Beach won on a tiebreaker.  The reality, however, is they’re more than that – best friends and competitors since their early youth track days.  And they have stories to tell: 
  • When the two were in sixth grade, Beach said, they wrote a letter to USATF to ask if they could do pentathlon backwards.  “We thought it was unfair had to start with sprinting events and end with the 1500,” he laughed, “because we wanted to be in the lead from the beginning.”
  • Back when they were fourth or fifth grade, they had a club meet on Mother’s Day and were racing each other (they were on different clubs) in the 800 and 1500.  They finished in a dead heat in the 800.  “Then we said, ‘Hey, it’s Mother’s Day, why don’t we tie the 1500, too?’” recalled Beach.  “We thought it would be a great Mother’s Day present.”  They tried their darnedest to tie and look like they were still trying hard.  “But at the finish, the official said, ‘Red (Gooris) wins!’  Daniel was like ‘What, no, I can’t win!’”  We still laugh about that.”
  • Gooris remembers how competitive they both were – in everything.  “We played basketball in his driveway.  We would lower the rim to 9’6” and have dunking contests – except you had to try and dunk over the other person.  I’m surprised neither of us got really injured.”

5. Many teachers, one master – Once he fell in love with the decathlon, Beach was extremely motivated to find a specialist to coach him in almost every event, trying to make sure he got the best he could find in the area so he could learn all he could in each discipline.  There’s Bill Frangos with the throws, Frank Soto with the jumps, Stacey Price with the hurdles, and George Provolt with the pole vault.  They have to meet in four different locations around the ABQ metro area on various days.  Beach is very thankful for all of their efforts.  “It’s really nice for them to take time to help me for whole journey through track, but really want to thank each of their families, too.  They all have been so supportive.”

But Beach and his family are most thankful for the one who pulls it all together.  Coach Adam Kedge, who leads the national class track and XC programs at Albuquerque Academy, has selflessly and tirelessly worked to make sure that it all comes together so Beach can be all he can be at the national level, yet be an integral part of the team, too.  “Adam is amazing,” says Curtis’s mother, Jeana.  “He’s done a phenomenal job and Curtis has learned so much from him.  A lot of times you see friction between club coaches and high school coaches, but when Curtis went to the Academy, Adam got them all to sit down and they made a master plan.  He arranges all of the workouts and is the foundation for all of it.”

6. Being Coach Beach – Seemingly leaving no stone unturned in his range of experiences in track, Beach has not only proven to be a world-class competitor, and aspiring track and field administrator/executive/marketer, but he has also dabbled in coaching.  When Beach was in 9th grade, he started coaching Albuquerque TC athletes periodically, then started working specifically with a young multi-eventer named Gavin Sleeter two years ago.  His coaching grew his junior year, and when Sleeter returned to the sport after a year’s hiatus this year, he really took him under his wing.

When seeing young Gavin get frustrated when not getting perfect results in certain events, or even individual attempts in a jump or throw, he realized he saw some of himself – or more accurately, the way he was more often before last summer, when he had his self-described attitude adjustment after Junior Nationals.  “Through coaching him, I’m learning the same basic life skills that I need to learn now.  … Whatever you do, it’s about having fun and striving for improvement.  Always seizing every opportunity and doing the best you can with what you have.  It doesn’t matter as much where your performances stand among everyone else, as long as you work hard to meet a challenge.  Finding a goal and working really hard towards it, but having fun with it and enjoying the moment – that’s how you lead a meaningful and exciting life.”

Beach added that coaching has really developed his teaching and communication skills.  “At first, I would explain things in great detail – it might be right on, but it wasn’t the best way to coach.  I learned a lot about being eloquent, but being simple and straightforward at the same time.  When I’m coaching I have to think about all of all of these things and explain them in a way that the athlete will accept the information.

“I’ve helped Gavin become someone who seeks constant improvement and not perfection every time … he’s better about understanding how he can be coming along and improving and be ok with the process.”

Debbie Sleeter, Gavin’s mother, says Beach has been a great role model for her son.  “He has a work ethic like no one else I’ve seen.  He’s really devoted a lot of time to helping Gavin be the best that he can be.  Curtis has taught him the value of warming up properly, eating properly, and a lot of things besides just the actual events.”

Mrs. Sleeter says her son remembers the mental perspectives Beach has taught him, too.  “In one of his pentathlons this year, he had a bad start in the hurdles and was starting to get down on himself, so finally I asked him, ‘What would Curtis tell you?’  He said Curtis would tell him to just focus on the next event, and that’s what he did.”

Is coaching something Beach would be interested in, in the long term?  “I’m always open to coaching and helping a lot of people.  Coach Kedge wants me to come back in 15-20 years when I’m done with my athletic career and become the head coach at Albuquerque Academy to replace him.  I can’t say what I’ll be doing then, but I might take him up on it.”

7. Businessman Beach – Beach may not be ready to take over for USATF CEO Doug Logan just yet, but he’s already been learning about business and marketing.  He displayed this past spring that he was a quick study in his year-end senior project at the Academy.  “It can be an internship, mentorship or self-directed project.  The idea is to think about what you might want to do later in life, and apply what you’ve learned in school to real world situations and problems.”

Over his high school career, Beach had become a “loyal customer” and friend of the Sandia Chile Grill, an Albuquerque-area operation run by Mick Coker.  “I asked Mr. Coker if I could help him with catering and learn how he, as a small business-owner, survived as a non-franchise as a restaurant when 90 percent of first-year startups go out of business.  I wanted to learn his whole business plan, and how he did it, and help him cater and search for customers and actually get sales.”

Beach developed a plan to cater lunches (a turkey breast sub, Gatorade and cookies) to teams at the Harper Invitational in April, contacting coaches and asking them if they’d like to sign up and determining the price that the meal should be to make it both affordable for the teams and profitable for the business (they settled on $6.50 each).  Beach was competing in the meet, as well, but was able to do most of his part of the work in advance. 

“I had a blast doing it,” said Beach.  “It was a cool, little challenge.  I know it helped that the coaches knew who I was.  A lot of them came back and asked for meals for future meets.  It taught me a lot about pursuing every possible opportunity to make money for this business, and how hard they work to get and keep customers.  But Mr. Coker also taught me a lot about being genuinely friendly to customers, not just because you need them.”

Coker had already been impressed with Beach as a dedicated student-athlete; now he could see him in an up-close situation in an entirely different milieu.  It turned out Curtis made more money for him than a professional he had hired to do the same type of thing.  “He’s a real mature guy for his age,” he said.  “He found a niche he could work in, in this project, and made the best of it.  He’s well-spoken and a real people’s person.  He listens to people for who they are.” 

An autographed shirt from the Pan Am Juniors is now up on the wall of the Grill and one of the menu offerings is now a breakfast combo meal called the “Beach Blast.”

8. Jeana - Nurse, counsel, mom -- Jeana King-Beach has already been immortalized as a track mom on the pages of DyeStat, but just what she means for Team Beach goes beyond the obvious.  For those who don’t know, she is a professional nurse and her medical knowledge and savvy has helped her son navigate a minefield of allergies and breathing difficulties that Beach has struggled with off and on since he was a toddler.

In his second year of life, an unfortunate accident almost ended his life – Beach walked out an accidentally open door and fell into a small pond, where he lay face-down until he was discovered about three minutes later.  He was given CPR and recovered, but the accident created a periodic vocal cord dysfunction.  He was also diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma.  Mrs. Beach said there weren’t a lot of problems for Curtis when he was really young, but after a bad flare-up at an early Youth National meet in Illinois, the family knew they were going to have to be more vigilant.  “We weren’t prepared at that point,” she said.  “We came back to a doctor who said he should change sports, and Curtis was so upset, so we went to another doctor who said if he couldn’t manage his asthma then he wasn’t doing his job.”  The family has learned what to do and how to make on the spot adjustments, as they had to when Curtis had problems upon arrival in New York for NSIC this year.  “Without my mom’s on-the-spot knowledge, there’s no way I could have performed up to the same level,” he said.

Curtis is also grateful for his mom’s help in keeping his head on straight, humble and growing his “life skills” along with his other skills.  “One thing my mom does a lot is make sure I realize everything I’ve gotten in life  … I don’t know if I’d appreciate everything everyone does – my dad, Coach Kedge, my whole family, everyone – without some periodic conversations with her.  They’re really low key, but my mom has really just taught me a lot, just through regular conversations.  She tells me stories from her work – about how some people will fight and get in petty arguments – and how you have to remember consequences of your actions, asking yourself what is what you’re about to do going to accomplish. She helps me understand more about life, how to get along with people, and strategies to succeed in whatever you do.”

“Curtis has matured a great deal this year,” his mom replied.  “He’s learned to do one thing at a time, to take care of the business at hand, and keep his big goals within reach.  He’s learning life is a gift every day”

9. A revolutionary – Given Beach’s original background as a distance runner and Coach Kedge’s obvious expertise in the area, one can see how one of track history’s most original decathletes has blossomed.  Kedge of course has never tried to push Beach to refocus on the middle or long distances, as he could so easily do, but has on the other hand continued to find ways to refresh the idea that the deca-ending 1500 can always be his weapon for great scores and to put massive distances between him and his opponents.  What Kedge motivated Beach to do in the Arcadia 1500 was truly special

“That really stands out from this year,” said Beach.  “I knew I was going to get the national record, even if I ran really slow in the 1500, but Coach Kedge came up to me and said, ‘I have a goal for you … if you run 4:10.5, you’ll get 7900 points.  I want you to run 4:10.5 or better and get that goal.’”

“That was just amazing to me.  I’m already going to get the national record, but he is seeking every opportunity for me to get as much as I can out of the score and maximizing my potential …  the key is just always doing your best and seizing every opportunity to get better.

“I don’t need to challenge Curtis very often because of his high level of motivation,” said Coach Kedge.  “But when I do, I usually have a good sense of his fitness level and challenge him to do things that are attainable but tough.  At Arcadia we talked about ‘leaving it all out there.’  I know there is a tendency of decathletes, or normal decathletes, to mail it in, in the 1500.  Being a distance coach and knowing Curtis’s strengths, I wanted to make sure that he never goes down that path – even with the national record pretty much locked up after nine events, I wanted to make sure that he put the cherry on top of the whole thing.  Many were impressed with his record; equally as many were impressed with the fact that a 7900 point decathlete could finish in 4:09. 

“I know Curtis has unlimited potential in many areas.  His shot, jav, vault, and decathlon 400 (48.16) are all going to explode soon.  With that being said, with the right training in the context of decathlon training, he can still be a 4:00 1500 meter guy.  I long for the day, and know it will be soon, when Curtis goes head to head with some of the US and world's best in the decathlon.  When that happens, I want more than anything for those athletes to see that the decathlon is TEN events and that if they plan on 1) not training for the 1500 and 2) sandbagging the last event, that they will pay.  I want Curtis to make up 100s of points on guys that think it is okay to run 5:45.  Curtis has the opportunity to change the perception of the event that determines the World’s Greatest Athlete to one that incorporates more than speed, technique, and power – that flexibility, endurance, and versatility are critical to overall athletic achievement. 

10. Called to the carpet – This brings us down to the last thing you might not know about Curtis Beach … out of all of his experiences this year, the one that was most impactful was not any of his records or victories, or even the day with USATF CEO Doug Logan. 

“The one experience that really opened my eyes, motivated me the most, was walking the red carpet at the ESPY awards,” Beach said.  “It’s not because I met all of these famous athletes, it was more the transition from the Gatorade luncheon we had just before.  We were treated like royals at this luncheon.  We were recognized as the best in each of our sports and to be with 11 other athletes who’s done the same thing – like Jordan Hasay, Anna Jelmini, Reed Connor and all the others – it was quite an honor.

“Then we go to red carpet and we were all excited.  But when we got there, it was weird.  I’m sure some of the others felt the same way, even though we didn’t talk about it.  We’re treated like royals, then we go over to the red carpet, and we’re ‘nobody.’  Nobody knows us among these other athletes that are household names.  The 12 of us had surpassed all these levels to reach where were right then – and we go to the red carpet, and here we are, right at the bottom.”

Beach didn’t say any of this with bitterness, disgust, or arrogance, but rather with wonderment.  He could see himself at the transition point on his path, realizing what is attained in the world of high school athletics was relatively insignificant (except for the occasional Lebron James), and he had perspective on how far there was to go.  “I could see athletes like Michael Phelps and Nastia Luikin right there, for example, and they’ve already done the things I’ve dreamed of doing – setting world records, winning Olympic medals.  It was humbling.  It made me realize, we’ve gotten to this point, but there’s a lot more work left to do.”