Sprinter inspires team while pushing limits

Courtesy Photo / Doug Witte
Chanelle Caldwell

Courtesy photo

Courtesy Photo / Doug Witte Chanelle Caldwell

Zach Sepanik

NBA great Michael Jordan was not a track and field athlete, but his words inspire Grand Valley State University senior mid-distance runner Chanelle Caldwell to push the limits of being the best in the country, across all NCAA divisions

“There is a video where Michael Jordan talks about how people didn’t believe in him and how he failed many times,” Caldwell said. “He talks about how he still made it and despite everything, he never gave up. I watch it every time before my big races.”

Caldwell is a member of the mid-distance crew, but can truly be categorized as a long sprinter. She mainly competes in the 800-meter run and is also on the 4×400-meter relay team.

“Longer sprints are pretty tricky — they are not real quick and over with, but they are also not long where you have to pace yourself,” said sophomore Leiah Hess, Caldwell’s 4×400-meter relay teammate. “You have to be on top of your mental game. We put a lot of faith and trust in our coaches so that when it comes time to race, we know that we are ready.”

Caldwell runs the first leg of the relay, while Hess runs the second leg. Sophomore Kalena Franklin takes the baton in the third leg with sophomore Aileen Lemanski taking it home.

But for Caldwell, GVSU wasn’t her first stop on the college carousel. She attended Indiana Tech University her freshman year before becoming a Laker.

“Grand Valley is a great program and Indiana Tech is a small, private college,” Caldwell said. “It really didn’t offer that much. I met with (GVSU head coach Jerry) Baltes and we discussed that as far as training and the team atmosphere, it was way better for me to become a better athlete.”

And that couldn’t have been more true. Even though GVSU assistant coach Keith Roberts, Jr., was not yet a member of the GVSU track and field coaching staff when Caldwell transferred in, he still appreciates what she brings to the table everyday.

“I think the one thing with Chanelle is her determination. She is probably one of the hardest working kids I have ever coached,” Roberts said. “If you give her a workout, she is going to try and hit every time. She does have a lot of natural ability, but her work ethic is unbelievable. She wants to be the best, not only in Division II, but in the country and at a professional level one day.”

Now a senior, Caldwell reflects back on two races that show just who she is as a Laker athlete.

Her first accomplishment was in her first year at GVSU, racing at the 2010 indoor National Championships, where she ran the 800-meter in 2 minutes, 8.87 seconds, her fastest time for indoor so far.

“For the first time I had coaches that let me know I could accomplish this before going into it,” Caldwell said. “Also, that I was one of the best athletes in Division II, as far as the 800-meter and they really believed in me.”

Her second greatest accomplishment came at the Mt. SAC Relays in California during the 2010 outdoor season. She crossed the line with a mark of 2:07.68, finishing second, her fastest outdoor 800-meter time.

“I was supposed to run in a different heat, but we were leaving early so I got into a different heat, which was really fast because I went up against Division I schools,” Caldwell said. “I stepped in there mentally and told myself that I could win. I came in second to a Jamaican unattached runner and beat all the Division I schools’ athletes.”

With the solid feats and fast times, inspiration from Michael Jordan just seems natural. And in her final year competing for GVSU track and field, Caldwell looks to continue her streak.

“The thing her teammates see is the workouts she does,” Roberts said. “She wants it. I think the other kids see that and it helps push them. She sets the bar for our entire sprint group on how you should work and how you should train.”

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