BOLIVAR, Mo. — She calls herself the least athletic athletic person in her family.
Her dad was a state champion soccer player. She has one multi-sport brother as is and one in third grade who is already testing out a run in her shoes.
“Her mom was at our home course and had all the little ones around her and she said: ‘Look you’ve just got generations of Hendersons coming!” Bolivar head coach Ron Bandy said. “If they can run anything like her, it’d be nice to have them.”
Kelie Henderson is the second oldest of eight children, and even though she “just runs”, she’s on pace to set the bragging rights bar high.
The Bolivar senior has experienced a remarkable rise since starting her cross country career when she entered high school.
“Well, my freshman year, I kind of took 137th at state. That definitely was not what I wanted,” said Henderson.
She had a couple seasons of track to her credit, so it did not take long to learn the ropes. That showed when she became a sophomore as she jumped up 129 spots to 28th at state.
“I was three places out of all-state, and I was like: ‘Oh my goodness!’ It was awesome but sad at the same time.”
As a junior, she planted her stake for the rest of her high school career. She finished runner-up at the Class 3 Meet behind Tabitha Weber of Marshfield. It was a gap of under six seconds, but a 12-second margin between Henderson and the bronze medalist.
“I thought: if you can finish second… holy cow! Then it ended up happening,” said Bandy.
She was the top finisher for the Lady Liberators as they brought the first Class 3 girls team state championship back to the Ozarks since 2008.
“Whenever I was told that I jumped up and down and screamed: ‘We got it! We won!’ I was so happy,” said Henderson.
In 2017, there has been no hiding Henderson. She is ranked No. 1 in Class 3 with wins in the Bolivar and Hermitage Invitationals. She finished seventh out of 550 runners, the fastest time of any Missouri competitor, at the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark.
She also ran a personal-best 18:23.67, almost a full minute ahead of the pack, at the COC-Small Championships this week. Bolivar swept the team titles in the process.
“There’s always a Kelie Henderson out there,” said Bandy. “Somebody that is just waiting in the wings and everything just went right and they explode onto the scene. In 21 years of this, I’ve never had a harder worker and she sets the bar high for everybody.”
For Henderson, that bar is made of gold. With Weber graduated, the Class 3 crown needs a new owner. She knows she could be the one to set the pace at this year’s meet.
“There will be people who are like: ‘okay, stick with her,” she said. “As long as I don’t go out like a cannon, I think (a state title) is possible.”