A California high school cross-country community rallied around one runner affected by the deadly wildfires.
For Gabe Price, running used to be a way get college paid for.
But the sport’s meaning changed for the Paradise High School senior on Thursday, Nov. 8 when Price, his family and community were ravaged by the Camp Fire in Northern California.
Price, who turns 18 in December, qualified for the cross country state championship meet by running on an empty course after initially missing the qualifying race because of the fire.
He was supposed to go with his cross-country teammates to compete in the section championship meet on Thursday. But that morning he received a call from his dad, Bo Price, who instructed him to collect important items from the house and go his to his grandparents’ home as the Camp Fire approached Paradise. While the family made it out alive, their house burned to ash and Price missed the meet.
"The fire was burning down the whole town," Price told SI on Wednesday. "I didn’t register the fact the race was [Thursday].
"...I thought about it, like, 'Wow, that’s the race I’ve been working for for more than the summer and obviously it’s gone.'"
But his cross-country coach and athletic director made it their mission to ensure he could qualify. The state office allowed Price to run on the same course at West Valley High, so the family drove to the high school on Saturday. Everyone expected for Gabe to run on an empty course. Bo called two parents from Chico High School to see if they would come out. Instead, word spread and multiple people came to support him.
"That was a pretty amazing moment,” Price said. "It was one that I was completely clueless was going to happen. As far as I was concerned, it was going to be me, my family, the coach and maybe an official, and I was just going to go out and run and try and make it. I still remember it but I pulled up and I’m just like, 'Dad that’s a lot of people and I’m just like oh my goodness.'"
Price ran the course with several Chico runners. One wore a watch to set a pace for Price. He needed to run a 17:40 to qualify for state. As Price neared the finish line, onlookers cheered and he finished the race in 17:12.
Following the qualifier, the Chico team invited Price to go further north to train and escape from the poor air quality. A running store in Arcata, Calif. gave Price some gear.
"To be honest, I’ve never really felt this type of support and love from people I didn’t really know on a deep personal level," Price said. "...It’s been a really amazing experience."
Price will run his final high school race when he competes in the state meet Nov. 24.
A post from Chico high school's Facebook page shared photos of Price, thanking everyone for the support they've received.
Price, a three-sport athlete, acknowledged he’s never seen anything quite like the way the running community has rallied around him and Paradise.
And running has changed for Price as well.
"It’s hard to explain, but it’s like a release,” he said. "It’s a way to, with all of the things, to just let it go and absorb some of the greater aspects of life even if something really bad has happened."
Paradise, a town of 27,000, was largely incinerated on Thursday as the Camp Fire in Northern California tore through, killing at least 48 people. It is the deadliest fire in state history. Two people were also found dead in a wildfire in Southern California, where flames tore through Malibu mansions and working-class Los Angeles suburbs. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and over 150 are unaccounted for because of the Camp Fire.
More than $5,000 has already been raised for the Price family through a GoFundMe page.
Support for the community has poured in, and the 49ers invited the Paradise high school football team to their Monday night game against the Giants.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.