Many great athletes call the Bayou Region home. We root for these athletes during their high school, collegiate and professional careers, as they represent our area and give us something to cheer for, even when times are tough.
Some shine brightly before they reach those levels, however, and spark that appreciation from us when they are remarkably young, such as Houma native Brynn Kelso — who gained attention as one of the top runners in the state when she was just in middle school.
“I guess you could say I was introduced to it [cross country] really young but not training until about a year ago,” the 14-year-old athlete says. “I did it previously at St. Francis [de Sales Cathedral School], but we would go to a couple of little meets. It was just to kind of introduce you to the sport, but it's always something that I’ve really loved to do.”
Brynn made headlines while in the seventh grade at St. Francis when she won the 2017 Middle School State Championship in cross country, being the first to cross the finish line in a field of over 200 runners.
During her middle school career, Brynn’s future coaches at Vandebilt Catholic High School witnessed her gift.
“We noticed Brynn’s talent before she even came to Vandebilt...We knew she would be something special when she came to us the following year, and we were right,” says Jeremy Ezell, assistant cross country and track and field coach at Vandebilt. “She has a grit that’s hard to teach a lot of kids, especially her age. She is just really determined, wants to win and very competitive, but in a good way.”
Brynn’s competitive drive led her to accomplish major feats at Vandebilt in cross country and track and field, despite it being her first year at the school.
Her second-place finish in the Class 4A state cross country meet last year helped her team secure the 2018 State Championship.
“Last year for cross country, we had very good team,” Jeremy remembers. “As an eighth grader, I don't think she felt any pressure at all. I think she just wanted to go out there and run her race, and she did. Every girl on that team was vital.”
Later that athletic season, Brynn placed first overall in the 1600-meter run during the Class 4A track and field state meet. At the event, she also was a part of the 4x800-meter relay team that brought home the state trophy for the Lady Terriers. She finished third in the 800-meter run as well.
“I would say the 1600-meter is probably my biggest accomplishment, just because it’s such a big and competitive race,” Brynn shares. “So, to win that was pretty amazing.”
Although she has already achieved several goals athletes in her field hope to accomplish, Brynn — who also plays soccer for Vandebilt — strives to reach even higher, aiming to run on the collegiate level, participate in bigger national competitions and doing whatever she can ensure her Terriers keep finishing on top.
Danette Kelso, Brynn’s mother, says she and her husband Matt Kelso are extreme proud of her, not just because of her accomplishments but also because Brynn knows how to push herself.
"Brynn is very self-driven and motivated,” says Danette, who also ran cross country and track in high school. “She has goals, and it's amazing for somebody at her age to have goals and to want to be part of a team and be successful.”
Long-distance running is a lot more than just running fast, trying to cross the finish line first. Runners must understand the mindset of those they are competing against, Jeremy explains, not just try to beat them on athleticism alone.
The sport is also grueling, Brynn notes, and participants must be mentally tough to push themselves, even when their tanks are empty. “It's about telling yourself that your body is more capable than what you think it is,” she says.
It’s almost unfathomable to know the mental fatigue these young, exceptional athletes like Brynn have after their multi-mile runs and strenuous workouts virtually every, single day — while balancing school, friends, family and whatever else comes up in their adolescent lives. They quickly develop hardworking and dedicated mindsets, allowing them to grow up fast.
But perhaps it is the quote — albeit usually attributed to old age — by three-time Olympic gold medalist Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee that describes it best: “Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind.” POV