Kael Stephens will rely on his experience as a two-time state champion hurdler to help in the decathlon.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain photos

Magdalena’s Kael Stephens is a few months away from taking on a church mission, but before that happens, he’s doing his best to savor the final moments of his high school sports career and take on one more challenge. Stephens will be taking part in the Greater Southwest Track and Field Meet as a decathlete.

Local sports fans know Stephens’ name because he is one of the best athletes in Socorro County, where he has excelled in football, basketball and track and field. He defended his 110-meter hurdles state title earlier this month and helped lead the Steers to the state title game in basketball.

Despite his athletic prowess, Stephens has never competed in a decathlon, and the Magdalena 2023 graduate is taking a crash course from people like his younger brother, Krae, and Socorro football and track coach Damian Ocampo.

“Maybe you should try it without the discus,” Krae said. “Go through the motions just like you are throwing it.”

It’s a family affair with Stephens’ father, Kelby, watching his sons (there are four present) help Kael increase his throwing distance. The younger boys (Ky and Kanaan) scramble back and forth, chasing after each thrown projectile.

Having never competed in a decathlon is a considerable challenge when stepping onto a big stage. Stephens has been under the bright lights and has two state basketball titles on his resume. There was a lot of pressure along the way, and this challenge is more about fun and maybe a little bit of sibling rivalry.

“I guess it’s because I’m not ready to let go of my athletic career,” Stephens said. “My older brother, Barak, also did a decathlon, so I thought this would be fun.”

Kael Stephens has set his sights on the Great Southwest Track and Field Meet.

The way Stephens has hit training says he’s out to be the top dog in the family, and he’s finding there’s a “village” willing to help him do it.

“You can’t leave your foot sideways. It needs to be pointed forward,” Ocampo said. As a former decathlete, the coach has been through the sport’s rigors and is offering both physical and mental advice for taking on the event.

“Just be an athlete, have fun. He’s a great athlete, so I’m sure he’s going to be fine,” Ocampo said. “The hardest part is that in the summer when it’s hot, the events start adding to each other. You use good technique and hydrate – it’s like, who has the stamina to do it. You don’t realize how much it takes. I mean, by the end – it’s brutal.

The basis of Ocampo’s advice boiling down to be “smooth, stay calm, drink lots of water, and don’t overthink things. You’re only as good as your next event, and the last one has zero to do with what is coming next.”

A passerby at Socorro High School on May 23 would have thought the coach was conducting a dance class on the football field as he demonstrated steps for the discus, and all four of the Stephens’ crew and Ocampo’s son, Isiah, followed suit.

The concentration was on Kael, but everyone paid close attention as Ocampo dished out next-level tips.

It is easy to understand why there is a smile on Kelby Stephens’ face as he watches his sons and his good friend coaching them.

“I love it, and it’s not just coming from his younger brothers. He talked on the phone for 30-40 minutes with his older brother about competing. Any time he wants advice, he can call him up,” Kelby said. “Kael has reached out to some decathletes competing collegiately, and it’s amazing how many of them have a web page or a Facebook or Instagram. He’s just reached out and said ‘Hey, I’m going to do a decathlon for the first time.’ A neat group of people is in there, giving him advice.”

Tuesday’s practice session included discus and javelin work, and Stephens noted a springboard at the long-jump pit’s end.

It was symbolic as he stood on the springboard, preparing to jump into the next portion of his life. There may have been a little family foot-dragging before heading home to Magdalena that evening.

Mama (Amy Stephens) had imposed a family deadline because a significant event was to occur later, but as 6:30 p.m. rolled around, the conversations lingered past practice.

Dad and sons seemed willing to face the possible hardships awaiting them should they fail to arrive on time. Just one more sunset as a high school athlete, brother, and friend before Stephens headed to where life will take him next.

Ahead of him that night was finding out his mission calling from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will involve a two-year stint in Monterrey, Mexico. Stephens will depart on Sept. 11.

Once he has completed his mission, Stephens is looking at college and has mulled over a future career.

“I wouldn’t mind being a physical therapist. I like working with people like that,” Stephens said.

Stephens will participate in the Greater Southwest Track and Field Meet on June 1 at the University of New Mexico’s track and field stadium. The event starts at 9 a.m. each day. Admission is $10 per day for adults and $5 for students and seniors (55+). Children under six may enter free.