Lions' Kelly Wants To Build On Last Year's Success

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lauren Kelly, a cross country runner at Peachtree Ridge. Lauren has emerged as one of Gwinnett County's top runners. 

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lauren Kelly, a cross country runner at Peachtree Ridge. Lauren has emerged as one of Gwinnett County's top runners. 

Lauren Kelly was never really a fan of shaving her legs.

So the Peachtree Ridge cross country runner turned it into a tradition.

From the first day of practice in August until the day before the state meet in November, Kelly will not shave her legs.

"She's got some quirks about her," Peachtree Ridge coach Ron Clanton said with a grin.

The ritual seemed to work last year. Kelly took fourth at the state meet in her first season of Class AAAAA competition.

"Everyone on the team thinks it's fine because we're cross country runners," Kelly said. "Everyone at school is grossed out by it and tells me not to wear shorts, but I do anyway because I don't care. I flaunt it."

Kelly transferred from Providence Christian Academy to Peachtree Ridge last year. The change in training and competition from Class A to AAAAA immediately had an impact on her.

"Two summers ago, I didn't know who she was. I saw this strange face every once in a while," Clanton said. "She really wasn't very consistent until school started. It meant the world of difference because when she was here everyday you saw something."

Kelly placed in the top 10 in seven of the eight races she ran last year, including ninth at county and fifth at the Region 7-AAAAA meet. Her success continued during the track season when she placed fourth at state in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

"She's very determined, very hard worker and she's really dedicated herself to be the best runner she can be," Clanton said. "She's become our team's leader."

Kelly took it upon herself to lead the Lions' summer running program this year. She was up to 45-50 miles a week until she got mono. She had to stop running for the next three weeks until school started.

Kelly has been able to compete the last two weeks, taking fifth at the UGA Invitational and third at the Carrollton Invitational. She still has some affects from mono like wheezing, so Saturday's county meet will be a chance to see where she stacks up against the best.

"County will be a good test of where I stand right now," Kelly said.

Kelly has grown up around running. Her grandfather Hugh Kelly was a state champion in the mile in Missouri. Her father Hugh and mother Piper were also avid runners, while her older sister Jordan ran at Providence. Kelly got her first taste of success at age 11 when she placed second in the girls division of the Junior Peachtree Road Race.

"That was my first big race and ever since then I've been a runner," Kelly said.

Peachtree Ridge has had one of the state's top boys teams the last three years, but Kelly wants the girls to be just as successful. The Lions' Josh Brickell is the defending state champion and Kelly has picked his brain on how to be successful.

"He's kind of my inspiration," Kelly said. "He never has a negative thought in his head. He's always so positive and knows he's going to win."

Winning is what Kelly wants to do this year. She wants to be in the top five in every race this year and improve on last year's fourth-place finish at state. It will be the only race she runs with shaved legs.

"The day right before (I'll shave), so I'm perfectly aerodynamic," Kelly said.