She’s only 11, but she already owns a Thompson Rivers University T-shirt.
One of the coaches of the university’s cross-country running team mailed it to her. It declares that the wearer is: “Property of TRU Cross-Country Running Team.”
Chantel Jeffrey gets noticed when she takes part in running races – and that’s how she got the T-shirt. The coach witnessed her speed at a race in Kamloops and again in the Reino Keski-Salmi X-Country Running Race at Larch Hills, where she out-paced runners double and triple her age. He asked for her mailing address and told her he’d be sending her a shirt.
In Kelowna last month, Chantel surprised many people, including herself.
In the 10-kilometre race at the Okanagan College Half Marathon, she was the youngest female runner, yet she topped all the female racers, 123 in total – placing first in the women’s division. She ran the race in a time of 45:45.
Her mom Iris was among those watching.
Iris says she noticed a few people at the start line commenting that Chantel had “just gunned it,” starting off too fast. However, they were high-fiving and eating their words as Chantel appeared at the finish line ahead of everyone else. They joined in the noisy cheers of “Go little girl!”
Chantel also swims and dances, so running is something she fits in when she’s free. She first ran as part of a cross-country running team when she was eight and in Grade 3 at Sorrento Elementary. That first race, she placed 23rd. She soon improved.
“It was my last race, which was in Scotch Creek – that’s when I came in first – when I realized I wanted to start running competitively,” Chantel recalls.
She started off doing five-km trail races, avoiding the high impact of road races. She explains that her strategy is to sprint at the beginning, slow down in the middle – “not very much” – and usually sprint again for the last kilometre or two.
Before she entered the Kelowna race, she estimates she had run a 10-km just 10 times.
Iris explains that neither she nor her spouse is a runner, and neither has won any athletic awards, so when Chantel practises a 10-k, her father jogs while Chantel runs back and forth to him in order to keep up her pace without getting too far ahead.
She appreciates the support.
“I’m an only child which gives me a lot of advantage to do other things,” she says.
Iris says winning is not emphasized.
“We teach her, race against yourself, not against others. If you finish a race or a test, feel you’ve done your best. Next time, if you’re not happy with how you did, you’ll have to change that.”
What does Chantel like about running?
“I kind of feel free, and I like travelling around and stuff. I like to see different views. On a mountain I like looking down when I run up high.”
As for people, Chantel looks up to Glynis Sim, another Shuswap runner, and she names Hans Aabye of Merritt as a hero.
“He’s a very good runner.”
Iris explains that Aabye is usually in the top three if not first in most races.
In Chantel’s bedroom she has a picture of ultramarathoner Tracy Garneau, who, she explains, runs 100 kilometres at a time.
For now, though, Chantel’s goals don’t include quite that distance.
“When I go to university one day to become a veterinarian I would like to join the running team. I would like to do a marathon one day.”