Eighteen year old Caroline Kissel knows the meaning of hard work. Recently named the "Gwinnett County Female Runner of the Year," Kissel typically runs 40 to 50 miles a week as a member of the Brookwood girls' cross country team.
"I like the sport because you put in all the hard word and it pays off," she said. "You can have a lot of accomplishments as a team and also be recognized individually."
Along with the Gwinnett County recognition, Kissel was named the Region 8-5A champion, and she was selected to be a member of the All Metro Team. She will continue her running career in college and has verbally committed to run at Georgia Tech.
"It will be challenging, but I'm excited," she said, adding that she plans to major in biology and pursue a career in the medical profession. "I visited the team and loved the girls and the campus," she said.
"It's such a great school," she added. "Having a diploma from Georgia Tech will help me with jobs in the future. It seems like it is the right fit for me."
An athlete since age four, Kissel played soccer for 11 years before discovering long distance running during cross country conditioning the summer before her ninth grade year.
"I quit soccer and ran cross country and track during high school. I wanted to try something new. I think it definitely paid off," she said.
Her parents are two of her biggest fans. "They love going to the events and watching me run. They're really proud of me I think. That's always good to know."
What does Kissel's typical weekday look like?
Like all high school students, she attends school seven hours a day. She then runs about two hours a day and does homework. She also finds time for Beta Club, a school organization that requires service hours, and attends church at Cannon United Methodist Church. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with friends and relaxing "when I get a chance to," she said.
How fast is she?
This year, for the first time in her career, Kissel broke 19 minutes in a 5K race three times. Her personal record is 18:27 set at the Great American Race in Cary, NC this fall.
How does she stay motivated?
"There are a lot of times when you want to give up, but it's really rewarding to stick with it. You'll get what you want in return."
The summer before her junior year, Kissel learned that she had a stress fracture in the right tibia of her leg. With her foot encased in a boot, she couldn't run for six weeks so she did "pool running" to keep herself conditioned.
"It was really hard, but good in a way," she said. "I now know my limits. If something doesn't feel right, I stop instead of pushing myself."
She admits that she can't go for more than a couple of days without running. "It kind of feels weird if I don't run," she said, laughing. And "it provides good thinking time for anything going on in my life," she added.
Who inspires her?
Amanda Riley who died of cancer and is one year older provides Kissel with inspiration.
"I got to run with her my freshman year for cross country. Right after that, she got sick. Even though she was in so much pain, she fought through it and never gave up. She is a really big inspiration."