When Chelsey Jones was 9-years-old, her parents began the common ritual of finding their daughter an athletic pursuit.
Of all the things they tried, one recreation group stood out to the young girl — the Southeast Louisiana Road Runners. At her first practice with the local long-distance group, Jones ran until her stomach ached so badly she vomited. But a moment later, she had shaken off the nausea and was back at it, running with some of the fastest kids on the track that day.
That’s when the Road Runners coach approached Charles and Zondra Jones and asked one question: “Where have you been hiding this girl?”
Fast forward eight years and Chelsey Jones still is running, but no one is asking where she is. That’s because more often than not, they can find her at the front of the pack.
Jones, a junior at Mandeville High, is building quite a résumé. She is the state record holder in the 800-meter indoor and outdoor races, with marks of 2 minutes, 12.04 seconds outdoors, and 2:15:21 indoors. She also finished sixth in the Louisiana Class 5A State Cross Country Championships last fall with a time of 19:26 over three miles. She has a best of 18:55 at the same distance.
Last week, Jones participated in the National High School Track Championships in New York, finished near the back of the pack of 31 total runners entered in the 800 meters. Her off-kilter performance had a lot to do with the flu-like symptoms she suffered during her stay in the Big Apple. She ran in the 2:22 range in New York, yet had she come close to her 2:12 PR in the 800, she would have been among the race’s top finishers.
Despite the setback in New York, Jones’ overall success is not overly surprising to long-time running aficionados. Her father Charles Jones, a 1988 MHS graduate, was a 10-time individual state champion for the Skippers in track and cross country. While he specialized in long-distance running, her mother, Zondra White Jones was part of several indoor and outdoor state championship track teams at Mandeville. She graduated in 1990, and the two married in 1992.
Each of their three children has participated in sports at Mandeville (brother Charles is a standout football player at Kansas State University and sister Chasity is a former track runner for the Skippers.)
But even with all that family history, now is Chelsey’s chance to shine. She certainly has found her niche in the middle-distance events. She also is excelling in the 400 meters, and on Mandeville’s relays.
“The tradition is not a burden,” she said. “It gives me something to push myself, honestly, because I want to keep up the tradition. I’m glad that I have the ability to do it.”
Jones shook off several injuries in her sophomore year to post the record-setting standards for Mandeville in the most recent spring and fall.
“I wanted to do better in New York and knew I would have been close to winning, if I wasn’t sick last week,” she said. “But there wasn’t anything I can do about it. I was just sick. But I feel fantastic now. It’s the best I’ve ever felt. Outdoors last year was the best I’ve ever felt to that point, and I feel that way now.”
That’s good news for Mandeville track coach Gerald Singer. The Skippers, who had several athletes battling injury in recent months, still finished among the top four at both the state indoor and outdoor meets last season.
“If we’re healthy (this year,) and it looks like we are, we’re going to do everything we can to be the district, region, and state track champs,” Singer said. “Having a healthy Chelsey obviously is a big part of that.”
Jones’ parents, as well as Singer, said whatever goals Chelsey sets are within reach. As a 3.0 grade-point average student and track standout, she’s looking at continuing her running career in college.
But first things first, and that includes several more chances at state titles — both individually and as a member of the talented Skippers’ teams. Chelsey said she wants to be as low as 2:07 in the 800 when she gets to the outdoors state meet in May.
That is a lofty expectation — to shave five seconds off a prep state record she already holds. But everyone who knows Jones said anything’s possible.
“Chelsey is very competitive,” her father, Charles Jones ,said. “She has natural ability, and she works hard. She’s really at her best when she sets a goal. Once she sets it, she’s gotten every single one she ever wanted.”