It was a proud coaching moment for 20-year Quince Orchard High School cross country and track and field coach Seann Pelkey on March 24 as he watched Cougars senior Margaret Lilyestrom and 2001 graduate Chris Sloane be recognized by the Montgomery County Road Runners Club (MCRRC) for their 2018 accomplishments.
Lilyestrom, who finished 13th in the 3,200-meter run at last spring’s outdoor county championship, was one of only two female student-athletes to earn Outstanding High School Runner honors—a humbling experience, she said. Sloane, who has his sights set on qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials and posted a personal best (2 hours, 25.05 minutes) at the 2018 California International Marathon in December, was named one of the club’s Runners of the Year.
Pelkey said it was gratifying to see Lilyestrom recognized for more than just her success in running—the outstanding high school athlete award encompasses running, academics, school activities and community service, he said.
“This was kind of the perfect award for her. It recognizes the total person that she is, the total package,” Pelkey said. “She’s a high character person and the bigger picture is never lost on her, which is so important. It’s never just about her.”
Sloane was on the first team Pelkey coached after taking over the Quince Orchard program in 1999. His journey in the sport—from Virginia Tech cross country and track and field star to potentially Olympic-level marathoner—serves as a great example for younger athletes of the opportunities that lie ahead, long after high school and college, Pelkey said.
“A lot of runners come to us because we’re one of the few sports that don’t make cuts; it’s something everyone can do, something everyone has access to,” Pelkey said. “And that access doesn’t go away when you graduate, which isn’t true for most other sports. Running is something that’s there for everybody, at all ages. I love the idea of runners becoming a fan of their sport and considering themselves lifelong runners.”
Running is the type of sport that rewards consistency. During high school, it’s easy to become preoccupied with results and achieving certain times, but running should be fun, Sloane said. And if people stick with it, they’ll realize just how good they are. Sloane is also a certified USA Track and Field Level 1 and Road Runners Club of America coach. In his second year working with the Montgomery College women’s track and field team, he also individually trains elite-level athletes, including 2017 Baltimore Marathon women’s champion Silvia Baage—who was also selected as one of the MCRRC’s Runners of the Year for 2018.
“Some (high school runners) are so good and they just let it go,” Sloane said. “Or they don’t think they’re that good and are like, ‘Why should I keep going?’ What I realized later on, and what I think Pelkey saw in me too, is that you continue to develop. I got better after college with consistency.”
Over the past 10 years, in an effort spearheaded by Marty Horan whose daughters Maddy and Camille ran for Pelkey at Quince Orchard, the MCRRC has worked to bridge the gap between the club and high school athletes. While some runners are in it to train hard and compete at the highest level, others are just hoping to stay fit while enjoying the team atmosphere.
“Running can help a lot of different people come together,” Lilyestrom said. “So many different sports involve running and I think it helps with discipline and commitment. When you run in high school, there’s such a team aspect to it. I don’t enjoy running alone, so it’s nice to know that there’s an organization I can run with people and still have that social aspect.”