Carmel Valley student finds harmony in music and running

TPHS runner Kurtis Shaffer on the saxophone. Courtesy photo

By Gideon Rubin

Sometimes when Kurtis Shaffer finds the right rhythm on long practice runs, it’s not always that clear to him whether life is imitating art, or it’s the other way around.

Either way, it’s become apparent to him that shaving a few ticks off his 1600-meter time and adding a few new wrinkles to a jazz riff aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive goals.

“Sometimes I’ll have melody motifs stuck in my head while I’m running,” he said.

“It’s kind of torturous actually, I can be practicing saxophone during my runs. Even if the keys aren’t there I can imagine where they would be so I can run through scales like that.”

Shaffer can probably use any time-management advantage he can get. The aspiring jazz musician runs on the cross country and track and field teams at Torrey Pines High, while excelling academically too.

“It’s a juggling act for sure, between academics, sports and the music thing I’m doing,” he said.

The “music thing” is Shaffer’s first passion.

He picked up the saxophone in third grade after the Boys and Girls Club visited his elementary school encouraging music participation.

Shaffer initially wanted to take clarinet lessons.

“My dad goes, ‘What, clarinet? If you’re going to play an instrument you’ve got to play the saxophone. You’ll get way more girls that way.’

“He was joking, but I ended up doing that one instead and that’s taken off. Now I’m thinking about a career in music.”

Shaffer’s high school running career has taken off too.

He placed 10th in the Palomar League prelims, clocking 4:27.79, barely missing the cut to qualify for the San Diego Section finals.

Earlier this year he stunned teammates – and himself – when he ran the 1600 in 4:26 in a dual meet against Mt. Carmel.

Teammate Tal Braude, a standout runner, told him to “stay right up there” with him during the meet.

“I ended up going around the fourth lap and I held with him on the finishing kick,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer finished second in the race.

“Everybody’s like ‘You just dropped [about] 30 seconds off your mile time,’ ” Shaffer said. “I was excited about that race.”

Shaffer started running in middle school but he admits it was mostly a social experience. When he went out for the Torrey Pines cross country team as a freshman, the experience couldn’t have been more different.

“When I showed the up first day it was like they were giants,” he said. “They were mostly seniors and I was a freshman, and they could like, run.”

The Falcons went to the to state championships that year.

“I walked in as a freshman and I didn’t know anybody,” he said. “It was little bit intimidating my first run. I was way out of my league, level, everything.”

Shaffer kept at it though, toughing it out through a knee injury (different running shoes eventually fixed that), and along the way developing life skills that he believes have helped his performance on the track and in the music room.

“You have to be diligent,” Shaffer said of the quality that he believes is integral to both endeavors.

And you also have to be driven, he acknowledged, to push out a 10-mile run when you’d really rather go back to bed.

“You have to really want it,” he said.

The early part is the toughest, he said, noting that the cross country team’s tapered training program has him doing the majority of his training early on, then easing off towards the end of the season. The results of the training are not immediately apparent.

“The result is that hopefully we peak in our performance level at the end.”

Shaffer is taking that diligence to his musical career too, putting in the long hours of daily practice honing his craft now — he hopes that will help him reach his peak performance when he’s establishing his professional career down the road.

Shaffer said he plans to study music, perhaps at an elite East Coast conservancy or one of the state’s top programs at UCLA or the CSU Long Beach or Northridge schools.

“Keeping your head on straight in those early times so that it pays off later,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking at in my music career and I know that I have to put in the work now so that it pays off when I go to college.”

Related posts:

  1. Carmel Valley student overcomes adversity to excel at swimming and running
  2. Carmel Valley student organizes concert fundraiser to help bring music to students at Monarch School
  3. Local student brings music to underprivileged students
  4. Carmel Valley student wins local music competition
  5. Carmel Valley student earns scholarship to Berklee College of Music program

Short URL:

Posted by Staff on Aug 2, 2013. Filed under Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply



Bottom Buttons 1

Bottom Buttons 2

Bottom Buttons 3

Bottom Buttons 4

Bottom Buttons 5

Bottom Buttons 6





  • Czech violin duo to perform at Village Church in Rancho Santa Fe
    In cooperation with the Consulate General of the Czech Republic, the Czech School San Diego hosts a free classical violin concert by internationally recognized Czech violin player Jaroslav Svecený and his daughter, Julie Svecená, who are on a tour of the United States. The concert will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 in the Village Church. The father-daughter duo will […]
  • Rancho Santa Fe weekly sports update
    Torrey Pines defeated Canyon Crest Academy 4-3 in a Palomar League opener for both teams on Oct. 9. Alayna Tomlinson and Farah Farjood each scored two goals to lead the Falcons. Samantha “Sammy” Cirino added one goal and one assist. […]
  • ‘Kachina Dolls and Dances’ to be topic at Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society lecture
    Native American expert Dr. James Kemp will discuss “Kachina Dolls and Dances” from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25, at the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society. Katsina figures, also known as kachina dolls (in photo at right), were carved typically from cottonwood root by the Hopi people to instruct young girls and new brides about the katsinas, the im […]