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.” ••