#5 - Kelsey Chmiel Grabs Her First (Inter)National XC Title
It never gets easier being a female distance runner. As you progress through High School, significant gains are harder to come by. And then, if you manage to keep improving, you have something else the male side of the sport rarely see's. The influx of competition comes from the grades below you, rather than the grades above.
Such is the case for Kelsey Chmiel (Saratoga), who, after the 2016 XC Season, was the Top Returner in the Country at NXN, after injury sidelined the only athlete ahead of her. By all rights, Chmiel was a heavy favorite for the NXN title in 2017, if not for the unpredictable rise of an athlete one grade below, and about 50 miles south.
Barring that athlete, Kelsey Chmiel may have had one of the best, if not underrated, New York Prep XC Seasons of All-Time. She traveled to Rhode Island for the first time, and set the Goddard Park Course Record, no small feat. Next, it was down to Great American with some warmer than expected conditions, where she clocked the fourth fastest time ever at WakeMed, a course that also features a Foot Locker Qualifer much deeper in the season. She would twice run Top 5 All-Time marks at SPAC, the latter of which now stands as the course record at 16:40.74. She was 40-seconds ahead of third place at the NY State Meet, and then clocked the 4th fastest time ever run at Bowdoin Park in 17:32.50. Despite an illness caught from teammates at Regionals, she held on to the front pack for 4.5K, and only faded a bit before the line. It helped earn her team a spot at NXN, where Chmiel would blow out the field by 11-seconds.
It was an impressive season, to say the least. Not only because of what she accomplished, but also because she never lost focus. Many of the post-season races we mentioned, she lost. She was racing a once-in-a-generation talent, but it never threw her off her game. She kept on clicking away like a metronome, not afraid to put the pressure on when needed. If not for the other athlete, many believed she would be the best XC runner in the country. She proved that at NXN. There was only one name not in attendance who could also lay claim to that statement, but she was off winning the Foot Locker National Champs a week later. If only they could meet for a race.
It would be nearly a full month later, and that wish would be granted. Chmiel, along with Claudia Lane (Malibu CA), and Top 5 Finisher at both Nationals, Katelynne Hart (Glenbard West, IL), were all invited to represent Team USA at the The Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge over in Scotland in the middle of January. It was to be the last true XC race of the season, and the American's would be facing off with the best from Great Britain, and other members of a European super team. One last race to go.
As would be typical in Chmiel fashion, she shot out from the gun, and never looked back. Being a true XC course, through the mountains terrain and rugged streams of Scotland, Chmiel saw no real difference to the course's she was born and bred on. Foot Locker Champ Claudia Lane was right on Chmiel's hip, no surprise as Lane was fresh off a Mt. Sac Course Record that season (albeit on an adjusted, shorter course). The pair dueled it out on the lush countryside, although the temps were more favorable to cold-weather athletes. Still Chmiel was relentless, pushing the pace, and soon Lane would fall off. With the finish line in sight, Chmiel had no one in front, but a fast close from an athlete from the Netherlands forced her into overdrive. She kicked away with one final surge, and finally got that National Title.
Or better yet, an International one.
It was a defining moment for an athlete that had earned it, through hard work and perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds. She would go on to have a strong Indoor and Outdoor track career for her Junior year, and is now back training for her final season. We can't wait to see what comes next.