Succeeding in long run

After an inauspicious introduction to cross country, Rob Kelvey of Westminster has transformed himself into an elite competitor.


Westminster cross country coach Dave Cox still laughs when recalling his first glance at a slightly pudgy, un-athletic looking freshman named Rob Kelvey.

"He didn't look like a runner," Cox said. "I've seen a lot of runners, and most of the time I can look at their build and their style and tell if they're somebody who's going to develop in two years and be a top varsity runner. I didn't see that in Rob at all."

Few people, in fact, could have envisioned what was to come.

Now a senior, Kelvey has blossomed into one of the area's dominant runners. He continues to show improvement that even surprises his coaches, as he gears up to challenge for a run at the Class 3A state title.

Already this fall, the 17-year-old has won invitationals at Walkersville and South Carroll, finished as the runner-up at Mount St. Mary's and Westminster and come in 10th in the elite division of the prestigious Bull Run at Hereford.

His transformation over four years has been nothing short of stunning, considering his first experience with the sport during a school race in eighth grade.

"I did really bad ... I think some girls beat me," Kelvey said. "So afterward, to defend myself, I was telling kids, `Yeah, I'm going to run cross country in high school.' "

Considering his lineage, though, it wasn't a huge stretch.

Rob's father, Bill Kelvey, is an avid runner and former road racer. His oldest brother, Jon, previously ran for Francis Scott Key.

"I always just thought, `Well, my dad is a good runner so I should be a good runner,'" Kelvey said.

With his son showing interest in the sport he loved, Bill Kelvey took him to the local track to see what he had, as well as to offer a few pointers.

"I wasn't trying to push him or anything - I just wanted to let him know what he was getting himself into," said the elder Kelvey. "I remember he couldn't even run a whole mile. ... He was a little bit soft - he just wasn't the most athletic."

Although Kelvey had attended East Middle School, where Cox is a teacher, he never participated in Cox's running club. So the first time he came out for cross country in high school was also the first time he ran competitively - and it showed. "A lot of times your top varsity athletes will be on the varsity as freshmen," Cox said. "Rob was not even close."

Kelvey spent much of his freshman season toward the back of the pack of his junior varsity team. All the while, he said he kept telling himself that if he committed himself to running, he could eventually be at a similar level as some of the top runners on Westminster's team.

As time went by, he turned those thoughts into reality.

"I think he just got more and more into it as time went on," Cox said. "Even in his sophomore year, he was interested in how the top runners in the state were doing. He kept track of things really well, and he may have imagined himself doing just that. But it wasn't until his junior year when he really started tasting his own speed."

After recovering from tendinitis in his lower left leg, which kept him sidelined in the spring of his sophomore year, Kelvey started his junior year quickly, battling teammate Tommy Lueking all season and spending most of the fall as the Owls' No. 2 runner.

Sporting an increasingly lean and athletic physique, he went on to finish ninth at the Monocacy Valley Athletic League Chesapeake Conference championships, third at the Class 4A North regionals and 23rd at the Class 4A state meet, earning second-team All-Metro honors.

This year, with Westminster's move to the less competitive 3A class, the 5-foot-9, 150-pound Kelvey thinks he has a chance to contend for the state title, seeing Linganore's Kyle Ryan as his main competition. The two will have squared off in three separate meets before the states.

On average, Kelvey's times have improved about 30 seconds from a year ago. Cox said what sets his standout apart is his great endurance, as well as superior strength that allows him to kick early and hold leads for the last mile.

The intangibles, however, may play an equally large role. "He just has a drive that nobody's had on my team for quite a while," Cox said.

His father also thinks that his son's analytical nature, which he has displayed since little league, is a factor.

"In baseball, even though you may not have the best talent, if you know where to be you make yourself a better player," Bill Kelvey said. "Well, Rob always seemed to be aware of where everyone was supposed to be on the field. I know that's helped him in his running, because he tries to think analytically about where to move in a race."

Rob Kelvey thinks he most likely will end up at a Division III college, where he can crack the lineup right away and be a major part of the team for four years.

For now, he's content to just continue chugging away, building his reputation as the latest in a long string of elite runners to come out of Westminster.

"I've always been asked by other people, `What do you think about when you run?' " Kelvey said. "I just always say, `Running.' In a race, all I'm thinking about is what is going to happen next."

Given how far he has come in four years, the possibilities look endless.

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