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Thank you, Kelsey Johnson
11/15/07

I want to publicly thank IPHS senior Kelsey Johnson for giving me yet another reason to travel down to my absolute favorite Texas destination – the Hill Country – this past weekend.

In fact, thank you Kelsey, for the semi-annual trips you’ve made possible to Austin and Round Rock for the past three years.

For the few who don’t know, Kelsey competed Saturday at the State UIL Cross Country Track Meet in Round Rock. She finished third, which is commendable, considering the impressive level of competition in this state.

Some people find distance running to be a bore. And I understand, long as they don’t say that it isn’t as “athletic” an event as, say, the 110-meter hurdles. If you think that, go the state meet and run alongside the boys or the girls, and try to keep up. Seriously, you don’t stand a chance unless you are not only in tip-top shape, but also acclimated to running three-quarter speed for two and three miles.
And there’s more to Kelsey’s story that needs to be told.

I’m hoping she doesn’t mind that I say that, as a freshman, Kelsey was an “average” athlete at best. If memory serves me, she ran the 800-meter dash, and came in fifth, or sixth, or seventh most races.

Somewhere after her freshman year, Kelsey decided she wanted to be a distance runner.

Her parents bought into the program. They had to, because Kelsey wanted to train with some elite runners, which she found with the Dallas Striders.

Once a week, the family would pack it up and head to Big D. At first, Kelsey might have been overwhelmed by the level of talent, because she couldn’t even see the first-tier runners when they crossed the finish line.

That pretty blond, sinewy-muscled Iowa Park girl didn’t give it up, though. In fact, she just trained harder. Many of you have probably caught a glimpse of her these past three years, running in the morning hours on the streets of our town, no matter what the temperature, no matter if it was sunshine or rain.

Kelsey endured a couple of setbacks, including a spill last year at the start of the state race. A bit beat up by the fall, she still managed to wade through three-quarters of the 102 runners to finish fifth.

This year, she bit the dust again at the region meet in Lubbock. I wasn’t there, but heard she landed pretty solid on both knees. She again rallied, enough to qualify for state.

In Round Rock Saturday, Kelsey looked like she was running alone for the first 300 meters, determined to keep anyone from tripping her. The strategy paid off. She wasn’t tripped. And for half of the race, she battled with two of the top four finishers at a pace that would leave you and me fighting for breath after half a lap around the oval track.

Kelsey will be back this spring for the outdoor season. Last year, her effort at regionals was ambushed by an illness that depleted the iron in her body.

She’s still on the road to recovery to this day. By the time she gets to regionals next spring, God-willing, she should be in top form to qualify for state and put Iowa Park on the map.

Beyond that? She has visited a number of major colleges across the country that are eager for her to run for them. She’s pretty much settled on a huge school in the South. I’ll let you know when she makes it official.

So, what we have here is a girl who started high school an average athlete at best, who then dedicated a good part of her high school years to becoming one of the best athletes in the state with this particular sport.

And now, she is on the ‘most-wanted’ list of several Division I universities.

I challenge each and every one of our kids in Iowa Park to find their own niche – whether it be in sports, or music, or a literary event – find that niche and find that same dedication within yourself to succeed and become the best you can be.

Kelsey Johnson has certainly given you the template.

Thanks again, Kelsey. I’ll see you and your bright smile in Austin one more time in May.



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