When she was in seventh grade, a basketball teammate of Kelsey Lewis' told her she should go out for track because she was so quick.
It turned out to be sound advice because from the time she set foot on the track, Lewis was, literally, off and running and when she got to Alpena High School her drive to succeed was second to none.
"The thing that puts her over the top is just her work ethic. That's one thing about track and cross country; anybody who's willing to work hard, you give yourself that chance," Alpena girls track coach Collin Riffert said. "Right from the get-go, you knew Kelsey was one of those (people) who was going to work her butt off. You knew there was a great opportunity for her there."
News Photo by?James Andersen
Alpena’s Kelsey Lewis (sitting) signs her letter of intent with Dordt College on Thursday at Alpena High School. Lewis will run track for the Defenders next season and may also run cross country. Surrounding her, left to right are: Alpena girls track coach Collin Riffert, Alpena cross country coach Joy Bullis, her father Steve Lewis and her mother Laura Lewis.
That opportunity became a reality on Thursday after Lewis signed a Letter of Intent with Dordt College, a NAIA Division II school in Northwestern Iowa.
"It feels awesome because it's always a dream when you start as a freshman to continue your career in the future and be able to go four more years to do what you love," Lewis said.
Lewis, who is a middle distance and relay runner for the Wildcats, typically running the 800 and two-mile relay, is aiming to fill the same positions in Dordt's lineup. She might also run cross country.
In either case, she'll be joining a talented bunch of athletes. Dordt's track and field team sent several athletes to the NAIA National Championships last spring and the Defenders earned All-America honors in six individual events and one relay event. Last fall, the Defenders' women's cross country team took ninth place at nationals.
Despite her strong work ethic, Lewis expects to grow quite a bit once she's fully immersed in running at the college level.
"I think the training is going to be a lot different, taken up a notch. I think the whole atmosphere will be different," Lewis said. "The people you're competing with really want to be there and they're striving to be the best they can be. Just being in that atmosphere will take my running to the next level."
Lewis hasn't slowed down for a minute in her senior season thus far. In the fall, she earned second-team all-Big North in cross country and this winter she's already qualified for the indoor track state finals in three events with the Woods Track Club.
She first heard about Dordt as a sophomore, but didn't really give the school much thought until last fall as she began her senior year. She began talking to Dordt coach Craig Heynen and visited the campus in December where she got to practice with the team and impressed coaches with her time in the 800 run.
Lewis looked at a few other schools such as Alpena Community College and College of the Ozarks in Missouri, but Dordt appealed to her for several reasons other than academics. She's interested in studying Animal Science and Dordt is one of the few schools in the country that offers studies in it. Dordt is also a Christian school and has an annual enrollment of 1300 which gives the campus a similar feel to Alpena.
"The college is very small which I like. I like how everything is like its own little town; it had that kind of Alpena-feel to me," Lewis said. "It's a Christian school and I love the Lord, so that's a big aspect of what I look for too."
With her academic and athletic plans set for next year, Lewis can now turn her attention to her final track season with the Wildcats. Last season Lewis qualified for the state finals in the 800 run and as part of the two-mile relay team. She earned all-state honors in the two-mile relay along with Taylor Stepanski, Emily McAnsh and Amanda Dort.
This year she'll be one of several veterans on a girls' team that returns five of its eight state qualifiers from last season. Lewis has some high expectations.
"I'd like to leave my mark on Alpena for good and break some school records," Lewis said.
Alpena cross country coach Joy Bullis is confident Lewis will adapt well to her new surroundings in the fall, noting Lewis' enthusiasm for running and her ability as a leader.
"She just gives 100 percent in everything she does. She is a fantastic team leader who's not just a leader in warm-ups and the typical everyday stuff, but encouragement, keeping people upbeat, recruiting," Bullis said. "She's just an all-around leader on the track and on the cross country course."