Running has taught Steffens to never give up.
Kelly Steffens has been a mainstay for Matanzas’ girls cross country team her entire high school career. She’s qualified for four-straight FHSAA state championships, she’s in her second year as a team captain, and is a sub-20-minute runner, breaking the benchmark in last season’s regional meet.
But there was a time where all of that almost didn’t happen.
Steffens entered her freshman year at Matanzas in 2015. During her freshman orientation, she went looking for the soccer team’s table, but the voice of then-coach Danny Weed rang out through the crowd. He asked her if she wanted to join the cross country team.
“I didn’t even know what cross country was,” Steffens said with a laugh. “But my mom told me I needed to make some friends.”
She decided to join the team.
Cross country practice is grueling for everyone involved, but it was even more excruciating for Steffens. For practice, the Pirates would run nonstop for 30 minutes. Too exhausted to continue, Steffens would usually end up walking for the majority of the practice.
“You have to be committed to do this sport. You have to put yourself through a lot of pain. I’d say you’d have to be a little bit insane."
KELLY STEFFENS, Matanzas cross country runner
But by the end of the season, she grew into a varsity role. She made the varsity team for districts and was able to tag along as an alternate at that year’s state meet, where she was the fifth-highest finisher for the Pirates.
The rest is history. She’s qualified for the state meet the last two seasons and is expected to do so again this year.
However, the 2019 season got off to a rough start.
She was stuck in a rut that she struggled to run her way out of. The weight of her senior year, her races and her college recruitment was almost too heavy.
But she persevered. She broke the sub-20 mark for the first time in nearly a year after placing 22nd with a 19:50.00 at the Katie Caples Invitational on Sept. 21 in Jacksonville.
“It felt like there was a weight taken off of my chest,” Steffens said. “Before, I don’t want to disappoint anyone. Now I felt confident with myself again.”
Steffens has always been a shy, reserved person. Being counted on as the leader of a cross country team since her sophomore year has helped her come out of her shell.
She looks to lead by example at every moment.
For example, during the 2017 regional meet, Steffens crossed the finish line shortly before her former teammate Rain Marti. It didn’t take long for Steffens to recover from the 5,000-meter trek across mud, mulch and wet grass, but Marti wasn’t as fortunate. She collapsed to the ground and struggled to stand.
Steffens couldn’t leave her fellow Pirate behind. She ran back to the finish line and carried Marti off the course.
“That’s just Kelly,” Pirates coach Tim Kane said. “She’s a great leader and a great person.”
The lessons she’s learned from running extend far beyond the race course or track.
It’s helped her to be a more disciplined student: She’s made straight-A’s every year of high school. She’s also dual-enrolled at Daytona State and is on track to receive her AA degree. She hopes to continue running in college. She’s currently being recruited by Lynn University, Embry-Riddle and North Florida.
“You have to be committed to do this sport,” Steffens said. “You have to put yourself through a lot of pain. I’d say you’d have to be a little bit insane.
“It’s definitely taught me not to give up —even if I want to.”