During a summer youth group trip to Colorado, Michelle Kent struggled at times during a rock-climbing adventure and was notably absent from the first group at the summit.
Stunned, peers chided her by saying, “We’ve finally found something you’re not perfect at.”
Keep in mind, no one razzing Kent had run five miles through the Rocky Mountains with her that morning. None of her 25 peers from American Reformed Church in DeMotte were doing any mild teasing when Kent was blowing through challenges such as whitewater rafting or hiking.
“Their goal was to find something that could stop me,” Kent said. “I wasn’t as tired, so I was leading the pack and encouraging everyone along the way.”
Little has changed since that summer excursion in a pair of 15-passenger vans, driving 19 hours each way. Kent is still meeting challenges and making the leap from also-ran to contender on the local cross country scene.
She’s Kankakee Valley’s No. 1 runner and ranked No. 1 in the sophomore class with a can’t-quit attitude in everything she does.
“I’m trying to find my place still, a little bit, among the more elite group of runners and working to see how far I can push myself to establish my place,” Kent said last Saturday after placing fourth at the Bob Thomas Invitational in Lowell.
Established local veterans beat Kent in Lowell, but on Sept. 4, Kent beat Andrean’s Becca Conley, who was the region’s highest finisher at the state meet last year.
Today Kent can truly measure herself against the elite as the New Prairie Invitational, a precursor to the latter stages of the state series, gives her another opportunity to springboard into the conversation.
“It’s a tougher course, and there are a lot of great runners,” Kent said. “I’m pretty confident, but I’m happy no matter how it turns out, because I’ve made big improvements this year already.”
Last year Kent ran New Prairie to little aplomb, but she was so sick that she skipped the team bus to drive separately as a courtesy to healthy teammates. It was her birthday, too.
Her freshman year was humbling after a productive middle school career. She and Allison Rockley flip-flopped between first and second on the team all year, but consistency was lacking even though she was all-conference and the Kougars were Northwest Crossroads Conference champs and semistate qualifiers.
This spring in track she did the mile and two-mile races, ran on the all-conference 3,200-meter relay and helped the Kougars win their sectional, then hit the road for solo runs all summer.
“She’s put herself at another level with her work ethic,” K.V. coach Lane Lewallen said. “It might appear that it kind’ve happened all at once, but she’s put in miles and miles.
“She was always very good. She’s just taken it to another level.”
This year’s success, which included a ribbon for 35th place at the stacked Harrison Invitational, is the result of refocused training, including a healthy mountain biking habit, and improved diet on top of the mental fortitude and drive that put her in a dual credit Principles of Engineering course as an elective this semester.
The daughter of a middle school teacher, Kent is in 4-H and student council and has an ultimate goal of attending West Point. The quiet leader is so focused that she’s eliminated music from her training runs, because it’s too distracting.
“I hold myself to a higher standard,” she said. “I want to be able to test myself and rise up to the challenges.”