There aren’t many cross country runners like Marana Mountain View’s Karina Kelly.
Kelly has stood at 6 feet 2 inches since eighth grade. In any given race, she towers over the rest of the competition.
The rest of the Mountain View squad actually bases its pace off how Kelly is running, and it helps that she’s easy to spot.
“A lot of girls base their race off of where she’s at,” coach Adam Vargas said.
In the winter, Kelly plays basketball, where her height gives her a more obvious advantage. But cross country and track is where her heart lies.
Not basketball, which she says she doesn’t want to play in college. Not volleyball either, even though Mountain View’s coaches aren’t shy about suggesting she try it.
“My little sister plays volleyball,” Kelly said, “so every game is like, ‘Why aren’t you out here?’ “
The answer is she’d rather be running. It’s almost like meditation to her.
“You can block out your thoughts and you can think about things while you run,” Kelly said. “You can run out your anger and really any emotions. It just kind of helps us to organize things in our heads. Everything seems to work well when I run. If I stop running, it’s just going to make it more chaotic.”
As a sophomore last year, Kelly placed fifth at the Division II state meet, leading Mountain View to a sixth-place team finish. Her height isn’t necessarily an advantage or a disadvantage, but it does make her different.
Kelly has a long stride, but tries not to abuse that advantage. Over-striding, Vargas said, can make a runner tire too quickly.
Finding what Vargas calls the “sweet spot” in Kelly’s stride is difficult because of her height. Kelly also has to start her kick earlier in a race due to her gait.
“For someone that’s 5 feet tall, for every two steps she’s taking one step,” Vargas said.
Kelly’s 2012 season hasn’t been as stellar as her sophomore campaign. She hasn’t come within 13 seconds of the 19:40 she ran at state , and Vargas said she’s been battling nagging injuries.
But he still sees a lot of potential.
“I expect to do pretty well,” Kelly said. “I think our girls are going to do pretty well as a team.”