Chelsea Swift ’14 was recently nominated as one of only two girls in her age group for a Runner of the Year award, presented by the New York Road Runners Club (NYRR). When the nominees gather for the prize ceremony at the Hard Rock Café on March 1, Chelsea will be in the company of a man who ran a 1:06 half-marathon and a woman who ran five miles in 27 minutes flat. Yes, they’re fast!
Among more than 60,000 members, the NYRR nominates “male and female runners who have exhibited the most consistently superior performances over a variety of races and distances.” Needing to run in at least six NYRR events over the course of the year to be considered for nomination, Chelsea completed ten. This meant several 6 a.m. weekend wakeups to make the 8 a.m. gun times for popular races like the “Gridiron Classic” and the “Dash to the Finish Line.” Through these, Chelsea placed consistently on the podium for her 12-14 age group. “Whenever I go to watch one of her races,” says younger sister, Kayla ’19, “I’m proud to say she’s my sister!”
In short, she has come a long way since her middle school days – just two years ago – when her training was relegated to two two-mile treadmill sessions per week. When she came onto the BWL cross-country team as a ninth grader, she ran the storied Van Cortlandt Park five-kilometer course in 24 minutes. As a 10th grader this fall, she regularly broke 22 minutes and usually placed second out of 30 in her league meets, behind a senior standout from Lycee Francais. Her coach, Science Department Chair Ben DiNardo, says, “Chelsea brings a combination of natural talent and a hard work ethic. But what I especially like about Chelsea is that she’s always super positive. If anyone else is racing with her, she’s there along the home stretch cheering them on.” Team captain Kyle Dannenberg ’12 says, “She is an inspiration to me. She makes everyone work harder no matter what.”
To culminate her sophomore cross-country season, Chelsea dipped into the larger talent pool of the New York State Association of Independent School’s (NYSAIS) championship meet. Among 19 powerhouse teams like Brearley and Nightingale, Chelsea placed 21st out of 137 runners, less than two minutes off the podium, but far enough from her best time on the course to make her hungry for next year’s race.
Since the end of cross-country season in early November -- and without any school races until spring track -- Chelsea has amped her training. Now, she runs either side of 30 miles per week, throwing in a weekly 8-mile run along the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, and two structured track workouts at The Armory Track and Field Center. At four o’clock, she’ll make her voyage from school to this renowned indoor track at 168th and Fort Washington Avenue, complete her warm-ups and stretches, then run intensity blocks, like 6x600 meters. “I love cross country; I love running through the woods,” she says. “But lately, I’ve really started to value running around the track. I like to mix it up – one slow lap, one fast lap, one really fast lap.”
Among her busy days, Chelsea finds, as she calls it, “a friend” in running. “Probably one of the nicer things for me is to do nothing – not to have to think about anything in particular. With running, you’re doing something, but you’re doing nothing but running.” Amid this peaceful balance of focus and exertion, Chelsea says she experiences “the runner’s high.”
Her goal is to crack 20 minutes for a 5k race. Considering the hilly, rugged Van Cortlandt course easily adds a minute to a flat road race time, she’s nearly there now. If she were to go under 20 minutes at Van Cortlandt, she would do what only one other girl did at the NYSAIS meet this year. The most she’s ever gone in one day is 12 miles, which has her, some day in the distant future, looking at running a marathon. For now, she makes one thing clear: “I would really like to run more.”
Her commitment to doing so is grounded in her perspicacious perspective on the sport: “There’s something to value about suffering,” she says. “Maybe your breathing is heavy, it’s really hot, your ankles are burning … But there’s something nice about pushing yourself through this. After you finish for a minute or two, it’s such a good feeling! Sometimes it feels good because you know you’re improving, but most of the time … I don’t know … It’s just a pleasure of suffering.”