Bell County Star Caden Miracle Carries Torch of Eastern KY

The KHSAA's fastest runner, in a parallel universe, instead might have been one of the speediest hoopers in basketball-crazed Kentucky.

Caden Miracle's time of 15:07.70 in the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational stands as the fastest by any runner eligible for the high school-governing body's state championships - and the second fastest time by any Kentucky runner, period - this season. He's won five straight races after kicking off his senior campaign with a seventh-place finish in the Central Kentucky Run for the Gold, and next month should be well-positioned to capture his third region title in four years before attempting to defend his Class 2A state title.

Miracle took the prestigious Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational title in 2022

And to think, Miracle used to run only to stay in shape for the hardwood.

"I gave that up freshman year," Miracle said with a laugh. "I feel like you don't necessarily have to (give it up), but basketball with the amount of injuries and risks it can cause, I felt like mainly focusing on cross country and track would be a better option because it takes up quite a bit of your time."

Jason Stewart, Miracle's coach at Bell County High School, ran cross country back in the day with Caden's mother. Stewart's coached Miracle since he was a fourth-grader, and had to persuade him to stick with running going into his seventh-grade track-and-field season.

"He had a great seventh grade cross country season and I had a feeling he would be great at the 3200 meter run," Stewart said. "So, I basically forced him to come to track practice and he was hooked after the first practice. That season he won the middle school state championship in the 3200 meter run. It was so hot during that race but we had a race plan and Caden was committed to it and I remember watching him make a big move on lap five and then go on to win the race.

"That was the moment."

A couple weeks after winning his second straight middle school cross country state title in 2018, Miracle finished eighth in the Class 2A KHSAA state meet (he was one of only two middle schoolers who finished in the top 40). Going into this weekend, he's won 26 of the 37 races in which he's competed as a high school student.

And he's done it all from the comfort of Bell County, where he's lived his entire life. Like most states, Kentucky's best athletes tend to originate from its largest cities and population centers, and that's especially true in cross country: a vast majority of the state's fastest times this season have been posted by runners who live near Lexington or Louisville, or reside in the state's abundant suburbs that feed Cincinnati, Ohio.

Miracle's speed and success would be significant anywhere, but he bears special weight in eastern Kentucky. It's a region of the country that unfairly finds itself at the center of natural disasters and negative headlines all too often. Last fall, he became the first boy from an eastern Kentucky school to win a KHSAA state cross country championship since 2001.

"It gives me a sense of pride being able to show people that even down here in southeastern Kentucky, where it's all mountains, you can go up to places like Louisville and actually give them some competition."

Miracle's done more than brought competition; he's most often beaten the competition. Only a single time - 15:03.39 by home-schooled Cooper Wasson - has been faster than Miracle's best this season. A couple of Class 2A rivals, Thomas Nelson's Riku Sugie and North Oldham's Adam Patel, outpaced him in the Run for the Gold, but he bested both (and Wasson) in the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational.

There are several competitions in front of Miracle this season - he's next entered into this weekend's Black Bear Invitational/Area 9 Championships - and well into the future. He's hoping to stay close to home as a collegiate runner, likely at Eastern Kentucky University or the University of Kentucky.

Wherever Miracle lands, he'll be running for his home as much for himself.

"He's giving our community and school a champion to rally behind," says Stewart. "I think he represents eastern Kentucky very well. He's a hard worker, smart, dedicated and has been an absolute pleasure to coach all of these years."