By Sarah Gooding • Photos by Savanah Mandeville

Braeden Bakos is glad his family introduced him to running as a child.

“My first couple years, I had to be forced to go outside and run, but over the years, I’ve gotten so passionate,” he said.

Braeden, now 17, has pushed through injuries and medical challenges to become a regional track standout, thanks to his hard work and his whole family’s dedication to the sport.

Vicki, his mom, took up running first and the whole family followed.

“When my wife started getting involved on triathlons, I was on the sidelines watching,” said Braeden’s father, Todd. “I saw the benefits she was enjoying, and then Braeden got involved in CJ Freedom, and then I got involved and it gave us a common goal.”

The whole family is now dedicated to training.

“We’re together constantly at the practices, so it became almost a habit,” Braeden said. “We’re running year-round, from track to CJ Freedom to cross country.”

Braeden said CJ Freedom, a Christ-centered AAU track club, has been a difference-maker.

“It’s honestly what prepared me best for high school sports,” he said.

It doesn’t hurt that his dad helps coach and all family members have designed their lives around running.

“There’s no soda in the house whatsoever,” Braeden said. “It’s changed our lifestyle on eating and how healthy we are overall as a family. It’s changed our dynamic in that we like to work together to better ourselves.”

This commitment has paid off, with both Braeden and his sister, Olivia, making the Junior Olympics each summer.

“Our family vacations are centered around the Junior Olympic schedule,” Todd said.

While the family runs together, both Todd and Braeden clarified they don’t “run” together like they did when Braeden was younger.

“If you saw Braeden’s times…He’s passed me on speed and endurance,” Todd said.

However, the two do train together.

“Braeden and I look forward to our off-season strength and weight training class we do each fall and winter,” he said. “These are T2R classes that are 8-to-10-week strength and conditioning classes for runners. We’ve participated for the past four years together and it’s been such a blast to share in a grueling workout together with friends and fellow athletes.”

Additionally, Todd has settled into triathlons.

“The running was fun, but I was looking for something with a little more diversity of function so it wasn’t just the running,” Todd said. “I felt like I wanted to do something to make it more of a challenge, plus I wasn’t as good at swimming or biking as I’d like to be. This fulfilled my desire to get in better shape and get my cholesterol down.

“Running and triathlon help me to have a healthy and vibrant lifestyle in mind, body and spirit. It’s so cool that I get to do that with my son,” he said. “Running has taught me more about how life really is. You’re faced with a challenge and you have the opportunity to train, to teach yourself and to move forward, but that only happens with determination and the efforts you make to move toward something that will make you better. That was a good motivation not just for running, but for life.”

“It’s just that passion,” Braeden agreed. “That’s why I’m still running. I could have given up multiple times, but it’s a passion to get back out there and compete.”