By MARINA WATERS
When Daniel Boone Head Coach Len Jeffers and Coach Ray Jones pulled Maria Chellah aside one afternoon to talk about what she wanted out of her high school career with the Trailblazer track and cross country teams, she knew then that she wanted to compete at the next level.
“My freshman year, Coach Jeffers and Ray Jones came up to me and asked me what I wanted to do with my high school running career, “ Chellah recalled. “I said, ‘I want to run in college. That’s what I want to do.’ Ever since then, that’s been my goal.”
And on Wednesday, May 2, when Chellah inked her name to continue her academic and athletic career at Lincoln Memorial University, that goal became a reality.
“When I went on the visit there, it just seemed like it was the right fit for me,” Chellah said about signing with LMU. “It’s not very big of a school and they’re still growing their track and cross country team. I think I’ll be a great addition to their team and their school.”
The high school senior has set seven school records in four individual events and as a part of three record-setting relay teams throughout her career at Boone. She was also named an all-state runner six times in indoor and outdoor state meets. She’s also a two-time all-conference and one-time all-region cross country runner.
But she’ll be the first to tell you that running takes perseverance to keep going and that support is needed to keep pushing towards the finish line.
“Running is a mental sport. You have to be mentally tough to compete and to be even in practice every day,” Chellah said. “The dedication it takes is hard. Sometimes I do want to quit and stop, but having a supportive family, teammates, and I go to church and am very active in my church, so having church members support me as well and supportive coaches who push me to do my very best, I think that all contributes in to me loving to run — that and seeing the whole community support the Daniel Boone team as well.”
Chellah doesn’t just have family support rooting her on from the sidelines; two of Daniel Boone’s runners are also Chellah’s sisters, Judy, a sophomore, and Patricia, a freshman.
Though the Chellah sisters are all there to support one another, Chellah said that Judy and Patricia also create a competitiveness that only a sibling can draw out.
“I love running with my sisters. They push me to be better because we’re very competitive with each other,” Chellah said. “I’m the oldest and of course I want to stay the fastest. We’ve always been competitive sisters and we push each other. It’s amazing. I want to see them grow with the sport and academically mature. I’m excited with where they’re going with their future.”
As for Chellah’s future, she’s most looking forward to growing on a relatively young LMU team.
“I’m looking to be able to grow more,” Chellah said. “I have so much more that I can learn in the sport and I’m looking to see people who are older than me and have been competing for a while. They are also younger, so most of them are freshman right now, but I want to hear what they learned as freshmen and not knowing anyone and coming from so many different places throughout the United States. It’ll be fun to experience that.”
Chellah said that in getting to signing day, her biggest obstacle has been one that few Daniel Boone High School students typically face; Chellah was born in Zambia, which is located in southern Africa. She was almost 2 years old when her family relocated to the United States in 2001, so now, she holds a visa status, which can make going through the college application process a bit tricky.
“Something that I guess you could say effected my whole family is I was born in Africa, in Zambia. I’ve been here for basically all my life and through the college application process, it’s been hard,” Chellah said. “I’m not a U.S. citizen. All of this application process has been hard because being accepted into college isn’t a difficult process, but my personal process of entering into school because of my visa status has been. Sending my application to immigration and having them go through that for me to start school in the fall has been a real pressure for me.
“So to sign to Lincoln Memorial has been a true blessing, and to have them back me up and all those other people who have backed me up along the way. That’s been pretty hard on us.”
Now, with the support of LMU along with her family and community, Chellah is ready get to that next level. She said she plans to major in exercise science in order to become a physical therapist. But all her goals, she said, might not have come true if it hadn’t been for her support system — including those at Boone.
“I would just like to give God all the glory for seeing me through my task of running and school and just giving me this opportunity to run at the next level,” Chellah said.
“I definitely will miss this. Building all of my friendships and relationships that I have through my teachers and my friends, I will miss it. I will miss being a Trailblazer.”