Kingsway sophomore Chelsea Ley's trip to the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships in San Diego, Calif., was a rough one.
Anticipating her first plane ride, the Clarksboro native was left sitting in the airport when her flight was canceled. Because of the unexpected change of plans, she reached her destination much later than her competitors.
"I kind of missed everything," Ley said about the pre-race events. "But I got here. Better late than never, I guess."
Unlike the flight, Ley has proven to be rather prompt when she has both feet firmly planted on the ground.
By finishing 10th in the Northeast Regional in the Bronx, N.Y, on Nov. 24, Ley qualified to compete among 40 of the nation's best girls' cross-country runners in today's championship race at Balboa Park in San Diego. The field also includes 40 of the nation's top boys' runners.
Ley and Oak Knoll senior Kathleen McCafferty of Morristown are New Jersey's only qualifiers. Three runners from Pennsylvania placed in the top 10, including boys' regional winner Neely Spence of Shippensburg.
Ley completed last month's regional 5,000-meter race in 18 minutes flat, beating 11th-place finisher Jillian Smith of Southern Regional by 11 seconds. A week earlier, Smith finished ahead of Ley for second place at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
Although her coaches told her otherwise, Ley did not believe she was capable of making the national cut.
"I just ran my race," Ley said. "With about 800 meters left, I could hear people in the crowd telling me that I was in 10th place. It was me and Jillian battling for the 10th spot at the end, and I knew as a competitor that I had to give it everything I had. I just went for it."
Ley had enough left in the tank to secure the final spot in that race.
She wasn't so fortunate at the Group 3 state meet a week earlier. She finished in second place, two seconds behind Melanie Thompson of Voorhees.
"I went in expecting either to win it or to get second place," Ley said of the state meet. "I hadn't really had any competition up to that race, no one in my conference really gave me a run. It was kind of hard to cope with these amazing great runners."
Ley will have to deal with a full field of high-caliber runners today. She believes she's ready for the challenge.
"I can't get caught up in the fact that the best runners in the nation are here," Ley said. "Although it's a huge race for me, I have to make it feel like it's really not."