Learn As You Go: A Student Spotlight with Ford Shaper ’19

“One time coming back from Thanksgiving break my freshman year, I just started running up Horn Canyon and had no idea where I was gonna go.”

That day, Ford Schaper ’19 snaked through dust-covered mountain sides for five miles, ascending near 2,000 feet to the ridge stretching between Chief Peak and the Topa Topa Bluffs.  

“I just sort of high-tailed it up there,” he remarked casually. “A nice little solo run and a little grind.”

Ford’s identity hinges on a deep connection with his environment. As a child in Houston, Texas, he spent weekends on his grandmother’s ranch, scurrying through barns wearing nothing but cowboy boots and a Stetson. There, light-hearted mischief defined Ford’s early years and revealed airy persona and capacity for humor.

“I remember I would always go jump in the mud puddles. Sometimes, I’d get in trouble for swinging on the farm gates and bending the hinges.”

If he wasn’t damaging property or dirtying his newest change of clothes, he was eating raccoons, possums, and other delicacies with his family. And after all the fun and games, his grandmother grounded him, making him clean the chicken coop.

“I liked to spend a lot of time outside,” he said with a grin. “Have a good time, get into some trouble, you know?”

 

At Thacher, Ford continued his relationship with the outdoors, receiving his B-camper his sophomore year and enjoying his fair share of weekend camping excursions. However, it was running that allowed him to fully explore the limits of his endurance.

Running on the varsity cross country and track teams has become an anchor in his life. He stated, “It’s pretty much the only sport that I do. I basically just run.” In his dorm room, a column of racing bibs hang proudly on the wall, displaying a laundry list of meets from Mount SAC to the CIF State Championships. Yet beyond the competition, Ford finds that running grounds him.

“It helps me focus and lets me relax,” he said. “There’s that whole clichéd thing that I like to push myself, but come on, pain hurts. Really, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just how much more you are capable of than you think. When you’re racing competitively in an environment that welcomes challenge, you find that you’re always surprising yourself with some new impressive performance.”

At the core of Ford’s running experience, however, is individuality. In an environment dictated by test scores and pre-meditated schedules, running has provided him a choice: “If I had wanted to quit, I could have. But it was my choice to keep going, not anyone else’s. There are things you work for at Thacher, but none of them are as gratifying as that competition because it is something that you’ve wanted to work for. The achievement is mine.”

As on the track, Ford’s impressive presence seeps into campus life. He is often seen as a quiet character whose personality reveals itself in his beaming smile or in unexpected flares of self-deprecating humor. “I really have no control,” he laughed. “I’m only just becoming a sophomore now. Who knows? I’ll probably still be a freshman most of my senior year. I’ll still be losing myself on the internet, diving into YouTube when I should be studying. I can’t see myself applying to college. That seems ridiculous.”

While he still possesses a bit of sophomoric spirit, that doesn’t prevent Ford from thinking deeply on his two past years and the two that still remain. “It’s difficult to say if I would change anything,” he remarked when considering his Thacher career. “There’s only four years. It may seem like a lot— it being a fourth of our lives. But to me, it’s probably not as big as we think, which is kind of scary.”

 

Ford is still learning the ins and outs as he moves through Thacher.

Today, he still reflects on his climb to reach the ridge that one day as an underclassman. “I was a freshman and I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he laughed. “It was my first time up there, so I just kinda ran up. I didn’t intend on it, but it just happened.”

As the sun descended and the temperature dropped, Ford approached the fire road that stretches above the Ojai Valley. He didn’t make it to the very top, but he came close and caught a glimpse at the encircling clouds below.

For him, the ascent remains one of his most poignant memories: “You can’t really say why experiences like that are so important. You learn life lessons as you go along. Part of that is recognizing that I’m not too far down the road, yet. Who knows how it may have impacted me or how it shaped who I am or what I’ll become. It was fun at the time, and it’s a fun memory to look back on now.”