He’s one of the best distance runners in the Central Coast Section and an A student who somehow also finds time to lead a rock band, but not even Owen MacKenzie succeeds at everything.
“I failed my driver’s test,” the Los Altos High senior said. “That was the last time I was disappointed.”
Tall, lean, mostly legs and with curly brown hair, MacKenzie smiles frequently.
“I can’t live without food, water, sleep,” he said. “I’m not a very abstract guy.”
The Los Altos resident added that his “greatest fear is being average.” MacKenzie has been far above that in just about everything – well, except driving – during his high school years. He strives for success.
“To another person, I’d say I’m passionate, I work hard and I’m happy,” he said.
On a given day, MacKenzie can be found somewhere in Los Altos: attending class, running local trails with cross-country teammates, playing guitar in the evening downtown or even visiting his neighbor Stewart, who notifies him whenever he’s mentioned in the newspaper.
MacKenzie’s intellectual vitality combined with his athletic abilities make him a sought-after recruit for the top academic and athletic colleges in the country. He said playing guitar is a relaxing break between running practice and homework. When composing songs, he draws inspiration from his life – running, and once even after reading “East of Eden” at school.
MacKenzie’s day-to-day life has a few constants, often in such an order: school, running, guitar, homework, family time, sleep, repeat.
“I actually enjoy school,” he said. “I find schoolwork easy, and my favorite subject is science, probably physics. I like calculus, too. I want to do biomedical engineering in college.”
Born to run
After school, MacKenzie can often be found on the trails or on the track: preparing to run, sweating on a run or chilling with his teammates post-run. He was born to run.
“My grandpa won a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games, so I’ve always had running in my genes,” he said. “My parents ran. I don’t think they pushed me into it. I do feel pressure because I want them to be proud of me.”
When he and his family lived in New Zealand, his parents would run races on the weekends. On a fateful Saturday when he was 9 years old, he ran in a kids race.
“I did pretty well,” said MacKenzie, who moved to Los Altos in sixth grade. “I did a few more because I liked it. My mom brought home a little medal one time. I was so excited because I won a medal for the club, being the fastest 9-year-old. From then on, I started running.”
Eight years later, he finished 14th at the state cross-country meet last fall. MacKenzie earned the CCS title in the 3,200 meters last spring. He capped off his junior year as the 16th-fastest 2-miler in California.
“I’d like to say winning CCS has been the highlight of my running journey,” he said. “But then you’re so tired at the end. You’re in disbelief. What’s next? I did the training, I hit the goal and it’s over. I’m pretty goal-oriented, but the highlight of it is every day finishing a workout and being with my guys.”
Like so many athletes, MacKenzie dreams big and follows his heart, but he takes his brain with him, too.
“People always say it’s all about hard work, but I think there’s more of a mental aspect of why you do the hard work,” he said. “You can’t just do it blindly. … I did 87 miles last week, but I was probably not supposed to. Listen to your coach – surround yourself with good people who know what they’re doing, because you can’t always do it by yourself.”
In 2017, the Eagles were the 10th-fastest team across all divisions at the state cross-country meet. MacKenzie said they aim to place in the top three this season, which starts this month.
“I try to spread my positive attitude and get everyone involved,” he said. “Because if I believe in myself and I believe in the team, then it’s more likely that we’re going to do it.”
Recharging through music
After a quick shower post-run and feeling tired from a long day, MacKenzie likely can be found strumming the strings of his guitar, humming, perhaps composing some music.
Imagine this as the beginning of a love for music: MacKenzie at 8 years old, wearing a bright-red wig, jamming out on the piano as a member of a band named BOSS.
“I wanted to play a song at the school talent show,” he said. “My friends Baxter and Sam wanted a piano player, so they recruited me. We were called BOSS: Baxter, Owen, Sam and we had another guy named Sam to make the name work.”
Soon after this experience, he taught himself guitar and singing jointly. Upon moving to Los Altos, he met fellow Egan students Krishna Tenneti and Dilip Kumar.
“We became friends, and we started shredding together,” MacKenzie said.
And so the band Shark Cops was born. The trio has found pockets of free time to practice in Tenneti’s garage for the past five years. Shark Cops hopes to release a single or six songs to make into an album on Spotify.
“The best day of my life was a talent show freshman year, and we played ‘Shut Up and Dance,’” he said, referring to the hit song by Walk the Moon. “The crowd took out their cellphones and waved along. I was so happy.”
Every evening during the school year, he puts down his guitar and finishes his homework, which doesn’t take him too long, and sometimes he and his family watch a movie. He’s asleep by 10 p.m. to recharge for the next day.