The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has named Bath County graduating senior Isabella Copher its 2020 Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
It's an altogether nice award and a fitting cap to a stellar high school career, but there is so much more that makes Copher, of Salt Lick, one of her school's most celebrated athletes.
What's maybe most important: The daughter of Chad and Kerri Copher moved from a painfully shy eighth-grader to humbly confident in high school. She says track was always her favorite sport.
“There's a lot more different events,” she said. “It not just running in one race.”
Go to the New King James Version of the Bible, and look for Proverbs 27:2: “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.” Bath County girls track coach Rick Staviski called Copher “an outstanding athlete.”
"She is an awesome person,” Staviski said. “She is one of the humblest people you would ever meet. Isabella receiving this honor is big-time for her and the Bath County track and field program.
“She has helped put Bath County track and field in the limelight, and this is a great closure as she moves on to Morehead State. She carries herself with the best of conduct in all aspects of her life. She is always respectful to her teachers, coaches and peers.”
Staviski considers Copher a member of his family; he said Copher's times, heats and warmups aren't as important as what happened between Saturdays.
“My highlight was the way she grew up as a woman,” Staviski said. “I don't care about track and cross country. I care about how (athletes) mature as people and how they go out to this world.”
Copher was glad Staviski “thinks of me like that.”
“I didn't know he went into that much depth talking about me,” she said. “It makes me proud to be his athlete.”
Kerri Copher could barely hold back tears as her daughter's exploits were read to her.
“It not only takes a special coach, but a special person to bring out talent she didn't know she had,” she said.
The KHSAA wiped out spring sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It didn't dent Copher's dominance on the indoor track because she set five school records this winter: two at the Wildcat Classic in Lexington (she ran the mile in 5 minutes, 39.55 seconds and the two-mile in 12:32.32) and three at the state indoor meet at Mason County (2:39.60 in the 800 meters, 5:40.49 in the 1,600 and 11:38.47 in the 3,200).
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In what became her final high school track race on May 30, 2019, Copher finished fourth in the state Class A 3,200 in 12:07.77 – which wasn't as satisfying as the 4x800 relay, when she joined Mallory Brashear, Jaycie Bussell and Abby Henderson to finish 16th in 11:19.85.
“I had my teammates with me,” Copher said. “It feels more competitive with, like, a group of people running with you.”
What was more, Bath County's 3,200 relay team qualified for four straight state meets: second place in Class 2A, Region 6 from 2016-17; and wins in Class A, Region 7 the last two years.
Copher was pretty good when she ran by herself. She won the Class A region in the 3,200 and 1,600.
Copher finished seventh in the state Class A cross country meet last November at the Kentucky Horse Park. Her 5-kilometer time of 20:05.36 was 45.43 seconds quicker than her 14th-place 20:50.79 in 2018.
At the 2018 and 2019 Class A, Region 7 track meets, you couldn't go to the concession stand for a hot dog and a bottle of water because you might miss Copher and the Lady Cats.
In 2019, Copher won the 3,200, helped win the 4x800 relay, finished second 1,600 and was part of the runner-up squad in the 4x400. In 2018 – another first in 4x800, second in the 4x400 and third in the 1,600 and 3,200.
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Copher's panoply of volunteering includes the Ridgeway Nursing Home Alzheimer’s Walk (she says an uncle has the disease), the Owingsville Manor Nursing Home Christmas visits (she sang carols, but, she says, not well), Bath County's Fellowship of Christian Athletes community sports academy and the Kentucky Special Olympic Track and Field State Championship.
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Copher completed four National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) courses. The subjects covered some weighty issues: concussions, hazing prevention, proper use of social media and a “Captains Course” to help her be a better leader.
And Copher in the classroom? She finished with a 4.0 grade point average and missed being class salutatorian by a couple of tenths of a point.
“We knew she was good”
Staviski remembers Copher the eighth-grader for the 2015-16 school year as a “little kid who wouldn't say boo.”
“Scared to death and had no confidence in herself,” Staviski said. “We knew she was good.”
Copher “didn't want to talk to anyone” that first year; she started to loosen up as a freshman the following season.
“I guess when I started to make friends on the track team, I didn't really have a choice but to come out,” she said. “I'd become a bigger part of the team, and I had to step up.”
Copher has a scholarship to run track and cross country at Morehead State next fall. For now, she wants to become a radiology technician – the same career as her mom.
“I'm gonna see how I like it the first year,” Isabella said. "I really like the coach, and my mom went to Morehead, too.”
Copher runs 20-30 miles a week; she calls it “light training.” This summer, she'll add hill work and “tempo runs” – moving at a set pace per mile.
“It starts to increase into harder workouts in June,” she said.
Maybe you hope for a legacy of serving others before yourself. Isabella Copher accomplished that long ago.
“People who are around her are brightened by her presence,” Staviski said. “It's what she brings to the table.”
And Copher? She doesn't think about being a Bath County sports hero.
“No, I don't think of myself like that, really,” she said. “I'm just having fun running. I just happened to keep bettering myself and just didn't realize it would end up being the way it is.”