Story by Jennifer Krane
“Does hearing the Relays make you excited, Jeff?” his wife Teresa Kapler asked as they neared Drake Stadium.
“It gives you goose bumps,” Jeff Kapler said.
Four-time Drake Relays runner and All-American Jeff Kapler attended the 2014 Relays, his first time being at the Relays since he ran in them over 20 years ago.
Bringing his wife Teresa and two sons, Drake, 15, and Jack, 14, Jeff was excited to share the event that served as the highlight of his high school and college running career.
Jeff participated in the 1986 and 1987 Relays as a junior and senior in high school at Cedar Rapids Washington.
He continued running track in college and returned to the Relays in 1988 for the University of Northern Iowa and again in 1991 for Cornell College.
“It seems like yesterday, it doesn’t seem that long ago,” Jeff said.
During his Relays career, Jeff ran the 4×100 meter relay, the men’s 4×200 meter relay, the men’s sprinting medley, the men’s 400-meter and the men’s open 100-meter.
His main event was the 400.
“The first time I ran it, I hated it,” Jeff said. “I didn’t know where the race even ended.”
In this first experience running the 400, he timed 53 seconds flat, an impressive feat for his first time. That’s when his coaches decided to train him in the 400.
“My junior year, I ended up fourth in State and senior year I was runner-up,” Jeff said. “Senior year, I came in with the fastest qualifying time.”
Jeff received All-American honors in the 400-meter in Ohio his junior year of college.
Jeff had quick running times and was cut out to be a runner, yet, he never planned to go out for track. In his freshman year of high school, his football coach, who also coached track, noticed his speed and encouraged him to try out for track.
“I never went out for track until my junior year,” Jeff said. “My boys have a leg up on me because they started track in junior high.”
Drake Kapler, Jeff’s oldest son whom he named after the Relays, is running for Junior Varsity and Varsity meets as a freshman in high school this year.
Drake runs relay events like his dad did, including the 4×100, the 4×200 and the 4×400.
He runs sprinting events as well, and recently broke his school’s record for the 100-meter with a time of 11.4 seconds.
Jack Kapler, an eighth grader, runs for his junior high’s team and runs the open 400-meter and the sprint medley.
Both Drake and Jack hope to run in the Relays in the future.
“If I came to Relays to see my boys run, that would be surreal,” Jeff said.
Jeff remembers participating in the Relays as some of the best times of his life.
With a poster of Drake’s blue track above his desk back in Wayzata, Minn., Jeff’s experiences at the Drake Relays have left him many fond memories.
“Jim Duncan, who’s known as the voice of the Relays, was the announcer when I ran here,” Jeff said. “He had this great, nostalgic voice. It was incredible.”
Jeff remembers talking to members of the press after his races, and saved all of the newspaper articles about his time at the Relays.
“I have all my articles at home I’ve saved,” Jeff said. “It was nerve wracking (talking to reporters) but fun, made for really good memories.”
He also recalls he and his teammates’ excitement in watching well-known runners race on the same track they did.
“We’d always stand in the tunnel to see people of notoriety walk by,” Jeff said. Knowing Olympians and athletes like Jesse Owens and Bruce Jenner ran in Drake Stadium added to the excitement of competing.
“It’s fun to watch, I wish I would’ve come back sooner,” Jeff said.