Local runner takes gold at Junior Olympics

Al­lie Kit­chell,12, just re­turned from the Ju­ni­or Olympics in Hou­s­ton where she won gold in her age group for the 400-meter run, Fri­day, Au­gust 17, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

For two weeks, Al­lie Kit­chell watched the Lon­don Olympic games on tele­vi­sion and saw her­self com­pet­ing one day against the world’s best ath­letes.

Kit­chell, 13, is a Fox Chase res­id­ent and soon to be sev­enth-grader at Penn Charter, an aca­dem­ic­ally and ath­let­ic­ally elite private school in the city’s East Falls sec­tion. She’s also a track star, hav­ing just re­turned from the Ju­ni­or Olympics in Hou­s­ton at the end of Ju­ly where she par­ti­cip­ated and took gold in the in­di­vidu­al 400-meter race in her age group.  

Her moth­er, Leslie, was quick to pull out her iPad and show foot­age of the race dur­ing a Fri­day af­ter­noon chat at the fam­ily’s home near Rhawn and Ver­ree. In it, Al­lie star­ted out slowly be­fore burn­ing past her com­pet­i­tion at a blis­ter­ing pace, fin­ish­ing the race in just un­der 57 seconds, while friends and fam­ily can be heard cheer­ing joy­ously in the back­ground.

There were no ex­tra­vag­ant cel­eb­ra­tions on Al­lie’s part, as it was seem­ingly busi­ness as usu­al for the slender speed­ster.

“I don’t really get nervous, but be­fore that race, every­one around me was nervous, which got me a little nervous,” she said. “Once I get on the line though, I’m just like, ‘Whatever, I can’t turn back now, so I’ve got to run it.’ I want to run in the Olympics one day, and watch­ing them on TV, I saw how much they wanted to win, and how they train around the clock all year. I saw them and said, ‘That’s go­ing to be me.’ They’re my mo­tiv­a­tion to keep push­ing my­self.”

Al­lie wasn’t al­ways an avid run­ner, al­though she quickly real­ized her skills when she began run­ning CYO track for Re­sur­rec­tion of Our Lord School just “to have something to do,” as Leslie Kit­chell put it. Then she swiftly gradu­ated to run­ning club and AAU track for loc­al or­gan­iz­a­tions be­fore join­ing the Mt. Airy Track Club while sim­ul­tan­eously run­ning track for Penn Charter once she hit middle school last year. 

She also ran cross coun­try and swam, though as she’s ris­en through the ranks track has be­come Al­lie’s sole fo­cus. In ad­di­tion to win­ning gold in Hou­s­ton, Al­lie also won a Ju­ni­or Olympics medal for a team re­lay event, and last year placed second in the 400m at the Col­gate Wo­men’s Games at Madis­on Square Garden in New York City, earn­ing her a $500 schol­ar­ship in the pro­cess.

“You have to bust your butt to run your best time, but you also have to want it,” Al­lie said. “Some­times in the past, it felt like a job, but this year I just really, really wanted it. There’s a lot of men­tal de­term­in­a­tion that goes in­to it as well.”

If Al­lie seems mod­est and humble about her ac­com­plish­ments, it’s be­cause she is. Some­times, in oc­cur­rences such as these, it’s dif­fi­cult for a 13-year-old to put things in­to per­spect­ive; but that’s just fine, be­cause her dot­ing fam­ily — mom, Leslie; dad, Bri­an; older broth­er, Bri­an; and grandpa, George, who said he keeps an “Al­lie book” in his room of all his grand­daugh­ter’s ac­com­plish­ments) — tosses plenty of de­served praise her way. 

“I’m not huge on watch­ing track meets,” Al­lie’s fath­er said. “I love watch­ing my daugh­ter com­pete, but that could be 60 seconds of an eight- to twelve-hour day. But I tell you, when she gets on that line, my heart and stom­ach start churn­ing and it re­ju­ven­ates me right off the bat. I get scared and shaky to the point where I’m al­most afraid to watch.”

“I’m al­ways set up in my chair at the fin­ish line with my stop­watch,” George Kit­chell ad­ded. “She has tons of friends that love her be­cause of who she is. She looks at people and doesn’t judge them, which is what I’m most proud of. She doesn’t see rich or poor, black or white … she just sees people as people. And to see a girl that age look at oth­er people that way is fant­ast­ic. Her win­ning track meets is great, don’t get me wrong, but that’s what I’m proudest of.”

Not only does Al­lie have her sights set on her own lofty goal of run­ning in the Olympics one day, but she spends her time in en­vir­on­ments that keep her groun­ded, both at home and at school. 

“She’s very humble and mod­est, and we try to teach our kids not to look too far in­to this,” Bri­an Kit­chell said. “Real­ist­ic­ally, it’s sports, and you can’t let that dom­in­ate you all the time, be­cause there are oth­er things to do in life. People make a big deal out of it, and for our fam­ily, it is a big deal; that said, you still have to be a de­cent per­son. It doesn’t mat­ter if you win today, be­cause when you come home you still have to walk the dog.”

At Penn Charter, Al­lie gets much of the same treat­ment. The school has pro­duced a pleth­ora of big-time ath­let­ic fig­ures, from Phil­lies gen­er­al man­ager Ruben Am­aro Jr., Phil­lies pres­id­ent Dav­id Mont­gomery, At­lanta Fal­cons quar­ter­back Matt Ry­an and pro­fes­sion­al soc­cer play­ers Bobby Con­vey and Chris Al­bright, and the back­bone of a good edu­ca­tion in a close-knit com­munity keeps the school’s high-pro­file alumni close to their roots. With this in mind, Al­lie will likely nev­er grow a head too big for her body no mat­ter how far her track en­deavors take her. 

“Penn Charter gives you an iden­tity and people re­spect you for whatever that iden­tity is,” Al­lie said. “Even if it’s something dif­fer­ent, like be­ing really good at chess, people there really re­spect each oth­er, and it’s great to have people sup­port you wheth­er you’re win­ning or los­ing.”

And for what it’s worth, Al­lie makes sure track doesn’t com­pletely dom­in­ate her life. She al­lows her­self time to spend with friends and fam­ily, and she loves to draw.  Leslie Kit­chell poin­ted out sev­er­al pieces of art­work hanging in the fam­ily’s liv­ing room that her daugh­ter pro­duced. 

No mat­ter what, the Kit­chell fam­ily will con­tin­ue to sup­port Al­lie un­con­di­tion­ally, and they must be do­ing a whole lot right. After re­turn­ing from Hou­s­ton, Leslie Kit­chell re­ceived a text mes­sage from one of Al­lie’s coaches, which she read aloud:

“It was a great pleas­ure work­ing with your daugh­ter, Al­lie,” the text read. “She brought a smile, en­ergy, hu­mil­ity and thought­ful­ness to a won­der­ful sport for young girls. I ac­know­ledge her tough­ness, com­pet­it­ive spir­it and kind heart. Thank you for rais­ing a young girl in­to a dy­nam­ic young wo­man. God bless you and your fam­ily.”

As Leslie Kit­chell said af­ter­ward, “That made me feel great, and even more proud of who she’s be­come.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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