LAIE, Hawaii — Winning back-to-back collegiate championships running cross country might seem challenging until you talk to BYU-Hawaii's Chelsea Smith, someone who's done it.
Her enthusiasm in even a short telephone conversation can leave the listener more breathless than she probably was after crossing the finish line first at the 2004 NCAA Division II championship in Evansville, Ind., on Nov. 20.
She talks like she runs — a rapid flow of comments about subjects including running, academics, a special man in her life and the Church.
Originally a walk-on to the Seasiders' cross country team, Chelsea swamped the field by nearly half a minute in the 2003 national race in North Carolina during her sophomore season. This year, on a sloppy, muddy course, she led most of the way, though she won by only three seconds. But that put her in elite company as only the fifth woman ever to win two national titles in Division II.
Chelsea, the daughter of Steve and Debbie Smith of Mead, Wash., said that as she prepared to run the University of Southern Indiana course to defend her title, her feelings were intense. "I'm not going to lie," she said. "I was scared." To help her through the emotions, she received a blessing from her father and her BYU-H coach, Norman Kaluhiokalani.
Validating her excellence, after her win on the course, coaches voted her "NCAA II National Women's Cross Country Runner of the Year." That was appropriate since she won every competition she entered during the season.
Only a junior in competition, she is graduating from BYU-H this month, moving on to BYU in Provo, Utah, where she is planning to compete in her senior season in cross country and track while attending graduate school.
Chatting cheerily about her experiences during a Church News telephone interview, she said it felt wonderful to win again. She admitted with a laugh that "the only people who care about running are runners," but added that "running to me feels more natural than walking. I wouldn't care if I didn't win. I would love it anyway."
Though a champion in sports, Chelsea comes across as a very diverse person.
"I don't want to be focused on one thing," she said. "When I'm out there working out (running), I work out hard. When I'm done, I'm done.
"I want to excel in everything I do."
There is evidence of that in the classroom where she has nearly a perfect grade point average. She was named to the 2004 Academic All-America College Division Women's Track and Field/Cross Country Third Team by the College Sports Information Directors Association. The team comprises athletes from both sports from the NCAA II, NCAA III, and the NAIA. She was the only underclasswoman on the team.
But with everything else in her life, Chelsea said the Church is most important to her. She said some of her greatest rewards in athletic competition have been representing the Church and her school. She took advantage of missionary opportunities that came along when talking to competitors and others.
She said she is even driven, as visiting teaching leader, to do her best to motivate the sisters in her BYU-H 10th Ward in their assignments.
After three years of running through pineapple fields and picking an occasional banana during her training, Chelsea expects to continue to do her best as she moves to a new stage in her life. And helping her, she said, will be her most excellent choice of all. She is engaged to marry Brian McKell of Ferron, Utah, in the Salt Lake Temple in May. They met last year when Brian, shortly after his mission to the Philippines, attended BYU-H for a semester.
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