Blanchard brings hard work, vibrant smile to Big Tens
Feb. 25, 2010
By Jeremy Rosenthal, IUHoosiers.com feature writer
In seventh grade Chelsea Blanchard had doubts about being on the track and field team, since running around in circles appeared very boring.
Seven years later, Blanchard now holds the fifth-fastest time in Indiana school history in both the indoor 3,000-meter run and mile events.
In middle school, the Fort Wayne, Ind. native first wanted to be a cheerleader, but her father stepped in and offered his advice.
"He knew my personality probably wouldn't mesh with that," Blanchard said. "He had run in high school a couple years and thought that would be a better fit."
It turned out he was right.
Blanchard said her dad forced into cross country in junior high school, but she had a lot of fun at practice, which would often consist of running around and playing tag with her teammates. She fell in love with the sport and continued to compete in cross country and track and field throughout high school.
When she graduated from Carroll High School, Blanchard departed with school records in four events, including a mile time of 4:58. She was also ranked in the top-10 academically.
Despite her great success in high school, initially the thought of running in college seemed a little daunting for Blanchard.
"I thought going to college where it seems so much more serious wasn't going to be that same sense of fulfillment, but I just love it," she said. "Everyday we come to practice and everyone on the team is wonderful and everyone is so different. It is a nice dynamic."
In her first year as a Hoosier, Blanchard was thrust into being one of the top girls on the cross country team. IU head coach Ron Helmer said she put in more work in her first year then any other freshman he has coached.
IU assistant coach Rebecca Walter said Blanchard worked very hard and put in consistent training, but that the program is one that takes time to see results.
"I think she handled it very well," Walter said. "It is showcased by how well she is performing her sophomore year."
In her freshman year Blanchard placed 33rd at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. Her second time around she earned All-Region honors with a 14th place finish.
After a solid performance at the Regional meet, Blanchard and her teammates received a bid to the NCAA Cross Country Championships for the first time since 2004. Blanchard said it was an emotional high and felt like everything was right in the world.
In a rollercoaster of emotions the women's cross country team finished a disappointing 31st at the national meet.
Blanchard said it was a stab in the heart, but she tried to find a positive from the experience.
"It seemed like everyone was thinking how did we let this happen," she said. "It's one of the worst feelings in the world and you never ever want to feel that way again. It was good for us because it was like `what do you want to do and how are you not going to let this happen again?'"
On the bus ride home Walter said Blanchard showed signs of maturity by asking what she could do to improve and really listening to the answer.
So far the improvement has been fairly obvious in the indoor track season. A year ago Blanchard ran a personal best time of 9:51 in the 3,000-meter run. At the Tyson Invitational this season she won her race in an NCAA provisional time of 9:24. Walter said she thinks there is still more room for improvement.
"I think her improvement is not going to stop anytime soon, now that she has everything in place," Walter said. "She has stuck with it long enough that it is going to pay off."
In addition to her athletic talent, Blanchard brings a vibrant smile to the track everyday and is described as fun to coach.
"I think she brings a lot to the team," Walter said. "One of the big parts of the way we want to build our program is, it's not just about your athletic talent, but it's the way you go about your business. If you look at workouts as being an opportunity to have some fun and leave it on the track, and I think she has really embraced that this year."
Outside of her sport, Blanchard is pursing a degree in visual art education and would someday like to be an art teacher. She said her art teacher in high school, Mr. Kilmer, who also used to coach cross country, is a close friend and thought she would enjoy running.
Even though Blanchard has a chance to earn individual accomplishments, she is most excited about this weekend's Big Ten Championships because she gets to share the experience with all of her roommates. Joining her will be fellow runners Helene DeLone, Breanne Ehrman and Kelsey Duerksen, marking the first time that the four roommates will compete together at a Big Ten meet.
For someone who thought track and field would be a boring sport, Blanchard is enjoying it greatly and is a leader on the team.
"She has grown really nicely into a leadership role," Walter said. "I don't know if she even knows that yet, but I know a lot of the girls are really looking up to her now."
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