Chelsie Stevens' best run did not come from either of her back-to-back Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship times in the 100 meters. It was not from any of her three first-place runs in the 200. It did not come from any of the myriad events she's won in her track career at Elizabeth Seton High School.
No, the senior's finest moment came during a loss.
It was May 19, 2011, two days before the WCAC championships in her junior year. Stevens approached her coach, Omar Wilkins, and said “coach, I want to work on my starts and I want to win the 200.”
Stevens, the defending WCAC champion in the 100, had to overcome Archbishop Carroll Kiah Seymour, who owned the sixth-best time in the state going into the championships. Wilkins and Stevens both knew the junior would need nothing shy of her best effort to topple Seymour.
Stevens hit a personal record of 24.85 seconds in that 200 against Seymour, shaving nearly two seconds from her previous best. But Seymour was better, winning with a time of 24.61.
“She gave it all she got,” Wilkins said. “She had her [Seymour] for most of the race but she didn't get it. But it was that heart, that desire that was unbelievable.”
As a freshman Stevens won the first race of her high school career at the Henry A. Wise Invitational. By the end of her sophomore year she owned a WCAC title. But the moment it became clear she had a special talent on the track came at that race her junior year where she put Seymour on the ropes.
“I did something at that race I never thought I could do,” Stevens said. “I didn't think I could run a 24-something in the 200. Actually, before it I didn't think I could run a 25.”
She has yet to break the 25-second barrier since, but her 25.5 at the St. Mary's Ryken Invitational on April 7 is the best time in the state this season. That same day she also posted a personal record of 12.11 in the 100, surpassing DuVal's Mobolaji Adeokun for the No. 1 time in the state.
Not bad for a girl who first learned to compete as a runner at recess in eighth grade.
Track had been a foreign thing for the Stevens family before Chelsie went out for the team at Seton in her freshman year. Like her mother, Renee, Chelsie was more involved in cheerleading than anything else. Even though she could smoke any challenger at recess, track was still not much more than a fun hobby on the side.
But that began to change her junior year.
“I wasn't going to get a scholarship for cheerleading,” she said with a laugh.
So during the winter of her junior year she gave up the pom-poms for track spikes.
“She improved tremendously,” Wilkins said. “She became more dedicated and she had an extra season. By the time she got to outdoor season she was so far ahead of where she was.”
The addition of competing during the indoor season paid off. Her time in the 55 dropped by nearly a second. She shaved two seconds from her 200. By the time the outdoor season began, Stevens had emerged as a top contender.
“I'm kind of flattered by it,” said Stevens of her role as the runner to beat. “I'm kind of like, ‘wow you would feel that way about me? I'm just a normal girl.'”
That “normal girl” recently signed a letter of intent to run for the track and field team at the University of Missouri, which she chose over Temple, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Maryland.
She was surprised by what she saw when she made the 16-hour drive to Missouri for her visit.
“I thought it was going to be boring,” she said. “I ended up really liking everything about it. It was much different than I thought it would be.”
To keep Stevens challenged and motivated to continue pushing herself in preparation for college, Wilkins often takes his star runner to meets outside of the local competitions. Last weekend Stevens went to Columbia, S.C., for the Taco Bell Classic where she matched up with competition from around the nation.
“We went down there four years ago and we had some of our top athletes not even make it to the finals,” Wilkins said. “I knew we had to come back. They might get their butts kicked but they are going to come back and work hard in practice.”
There was no butt-kicking for Stevens last weekend.
At a meet where new national bests were set, Stevens finished fifth in the 100 with a time just .01 seconds off her personal record, and she took 10th in the 200.
“She's just in a long line of sprinters we've had and she's trying to live up to those former sprinters,” Wilkins said. “It feels good to see all that hard work pay off but I told her you can't back off now.”