Cross-country and track extraordinaire Steve Wolfe joined the ranks of elite athletes in the Oklahoma Christian University Athletic Hall of Fame on Feb. 23, accompanied by six other inductees.
The Rock Island, Illinois native hit the road to success in 1973 when he entered Oklahoma Christian’s campus – and the state of Oklahoma – for the first time.
“Just on blind faith I move to Oklahoma,” Wolfe said. “Never been there before in my life. Never been to the campus in my life, didn’t even know anything about the institution other than that it’s a Christian college…and it was on blind faith from their point of view because they didn’t know anything about me other than what I told them.”
Wolfe said he told Oklahoma Christian that he graduated from high school with a personal record of 4:19 in the mile.
“We have always considered anyone coming in who can run under 4:20 in high school very good, even today,” Randy Heath, Wolfe’s former head cross-country coach and assistant track coach, said.
Wolfe accepted a scholarship offered by Track and Field Head Coach Ray Vaughn Sr. and went on to break his personal record and the school record with a 4:14.7 mile his freshman year. This was the first of five school records Wolfe would claim during his collegiate career, which also included the 1,500-meters, three-mile, 5,000-meters, marathon and distance medley relay (DMR).
In 1975, Wolfe began a string of accomplishments starting with a 33rd place finish at the NAIA Cross-Country Championships. The following year he placed 59th in the same race.
Months after his 1976 cross-country championship race, Wolfe anchored for the 4×880-yards relay that won the NAIA indoor title and placed third in the U.S. Track and Field Federation National Indoor Championships. On a whim, Wolfe said he and teammate Ron Stangeland drove to Topeka, Kansas to compete in a marathon. Wolfe placed second and set a school record of 2:32.42.
“It was December 4 or something like that…less than 100 people in the race and one guy was from KU who was pretty good,” Wolfe said. “I ran the whole thing by myself…and I think he beat me by about a minute or less. But I remember ‘Ok, that’s it, that’s enough, no more.’ And I kept my promise, I never ran another one.”
His final year of school, 1977, he ran the fourth leg of the DMR that won a NAIA indoor title and also anchored for the 4×880-yards relay that placed third during the indoor season.
According to Heath, the highlight of Wolfe’s story at Oklahoma Christian was his final race.
“He said he was concerned about his last race,” Heath said. “He told the audience that for his last race he just prayed he could do his very best and finish and give everything that he had.”
Heath said Wolfe approached the 1,500-meters race with the mentality that everyone has a final competition.
“An athlete, professional or amateur come down and have that last game or that last race and it’s an emotional thing because you only get one lifetime and this is the end,” Wolfe said. “I remember when I ran that race…I ran the race of my life.”
Wolfe toed the line of the 1,500-meters finals. He sprinted out at the starting gun and stuck with the leading pack in fifth place.
With 400 meters to go “he’s going as fast as his legs can carry him,” Heath said, and Wolfe went on to finish in eighth place with a time of 3:47.69 – equivalent to a 4:05 mile, according to Heath.
Putting his running career behind him, Wolfe graduated in 1977 with a degree in commercial art, but landed in the insurance field to make ends meet.
“I hated the insurance business because I didn’t know what to do,” Wolfe said.
Over time though, he grew accustomed to the profession.
“I’ve done it for 35 or 36 years and I’ve had real good success. A lot of the same focusing and goals, things I did in my distance running career I did in my insurance business,” Wolfe said.
Nearly 40 years after graduating, Wolfe was inducted into the Oklahoma Christian Athletic Hall of Fame. He said it’s “a tremendous honor” to be singled out of the thousands of athletes who have passed through the school since the athletic program started.
“As the years and records go by, you wonder if anyone will every remember you,” Wolfe said. “But that’s life. Life goes on and there’s always going to be someone better than, there’s always going to be changes and other things going on. To be remembered like that is just quite an honor.”
Nathaniel Giles, a current cross-country and track runner for the Eagles, said the honor of being inducted into the athletic hall of fame goes to someone who isn’t “one foot in and one foot out” of their sport, but “completely dedicated.”
“To see someone who is 100 percent dedicated and have the results show from that is a huge inspiration and they’re definitely worthy of being recognized and a role model for other students here,” Giles said.