A few years ago it was not known if Kelsey Simpson would be able to run again. Fast forward 3 years and she's not only running, she's a state champion.
Simpson was part of two state champion relays teams that helped St. Andrew Grade School of Rock Falls win the Class A eighth-grade state championship in East Peoria in May.
When she was in fifth grade, Simpson, of Amboy, broke her right ankle on the first day of track and field practice. But, it didn't happen at practice.
"I was playing tag at school and I jumped off the stairs," she said. "When I went to get up, I couldn't walk on it."
Recovery was lengthy and went anything but smoothly.
"The first doctor didn't fix it," Simpson said. "I broke it across the growth plate, and we didn't think I was going to be able to run again. But, then we went to a different doctor, and it all worked out."
It certainly worked out for Simpson and her St. Andrew teammates, who were coached by Jeff Trancoso.
She teamed with Mary Jensen (of Dixon), Lizzie Oswalt (Dixon) – a seventh-grader at the time – and Katelynn Pankhurst (Amboy) to easily win the 800-meter relay. The quartet had a state-record time of 1 minute, 51.21 seconds.
"At sectionals we won by a lot, but I wasn't sure what to expect at state," said Pankhurst, the 800 relay anchor. "I was waiting for people at the finish line. It was pretty crazy."
Jensen, Pankhurst and Simpson teamed with Teagan McKenna of Sterling to win the meet-ending and state title-clinching 1,600 relay by a scant 5 hundredths of a second.
"I could hear the other girl in the last 100. I knew I had to kick it in," said Jensen, who anchored the race and also won the 200 and took second in the 100.
Jensen was seeded outside the top nine in both the 100 and 200. She won the 200 as the 12th seed, not even running the "fast" heat.
"I was really surprised when I found out I won. I thought I might get third," said Jensen, who won the sixth of seven heats, but was unable to watch the last heat.
"I watched them start, then we had to leave," she said. "They had a board where they put who won. It took like 10 minutes of suspense to find out I won."
She was seeded 10th in the 100 and finished just 5 hundredths of a second behind the state champion.
Pankhurst also placed sixth in the 200 (28.43). Other top-10 performances by the St. Andrew team included McKenna's eighth-place finish in the 1,600 (5:40.70) and her ninth-place finish in the 800 (2:34.12); plus Maura Harrison's ninth-place finish in the discus (84-6). Harrison is from Dixon.
We are the champions
(St. Andrew's event winners)
200: Mary Jensen 27.35
800 relay: Lizzie Oswalt, Kelsey Simpson, Jensen, Katelynn Pankhurst 1:51.21, state record
1,600 relay: Simpson, Teagan McKenna, Pankhurst, Jensen 4:24.31