Chelsea Smith-Wishard beat the best distance runners in the state during her high school years at Kaua‘i High School.
She was a two-time champion in the 1,500-meter run, and now, the 18-year-old Pepperdine University freshman runs against some of the best runners in the country. She has just completed her first collegiate year running cross country and track for the private school.
“One of the biggest meets was at USC,” she said. “I remember watching one of those girls on TV and here I was about to run against her.”
But that wasn’t her toughest challenge of the year.
“At the UCLA meet, I had to run the 800 meters and it was my first time running it all season,” she said. “I think I had to run against the national record holder. I just remembered to have fun. I like running against them because it makes the competition so much better. It pushes me to run a lot faster. I feel honored to run against them.”
Like most college freshmen, it took some time for Smith-Wishard to adjust to being away from home. The weather was slightly colder in Malibu, Calif., than what she’s accustomed to in her hometown of Lawa‘i. And the academic load was much heavier.
“I felt like I was the slowest person on the team when it came to adjusting (to the workload),” she said. “It’s a really well-known school for academics. All the kids in my class were like the valedictorians of their classes or the best students. I struggled the first semester, but we have study hall during the season and I spent a lot of time there. I learned how to manage my time better. I kind of expected my first year to be my hardest, but it really is about time management.”
Smith-Wishard said one of the good things about choosing to go to Pepperdine was that most of her teammates were also freshmen, so they all adjusted to the changes together. They all became close friends throughout the season because of the day-trips they took together for meets.
Smith-Wishard had considered going to the University of Nevada at Reno or the University of California at Irvine. But Malibu seems to suit her just fine.
“It’s nice (in Malibu) because you have the beach and it’s a small town,” she said. “It’s like here on Kaua‘i, only I had a hard time adjusting to the cold weather there.”
She said she never got bored because there was so much to do. She stayed occupied to keep her mind off of the fact that she was far away from her family and friends.
Then, of course, there were the early morning workouts.
“I’m used to sleeping in. But I love it, now. I feel like I have so much time in the day,” she said.
The practices were longer and more intense than when she was in high school, and she had to do more hill work for training.
“We did a lot of hill work,” she said. “We didn’t do as much for track (at Kaua‘i High School). For cross country, we’d practice at Kaua‘i Community College and I used to think those hills were the biggest hills. Now, they’re not so big.”
She remembers her first cross country meet being the worst because she was so nervous.
“I think it was my worst race all season,” she said.
Overall, her first year was a good one and she’s happy to have the opportunity to be a college athlete.
She returned to Kaua‘i last week and is enjoying her break, all the while fitting in a few morning runs around town.
“I’m really happy to be back. Now I get to see everyone again,” she said.
Smith-Wishard graduated from Kaua‘i in 2007. The summer before her senior year, she suffered a stress fracture on her right foot which hindered her throughout the fall cross country season and lingered to the spring track season. She finished third at the state cross country meet and sat out the first half of the spring track season.
She made a triumphant and healthy return to the track at the 60th annual Rotary Meet where she finished in first place in the 1,500-meter run. She went on to win her second straight state title in the 1,500 a few months later.
She signed with Pepperdine that same season.