By Jonathan Wais

The pounding rain disillusioned the blonde teenage girl who had come to watch the race. She thought Southern California was always clear and sunny, unlike Minnesota.

California was a long way from home and Hannah Kellerman had been reluctant to make the trip. But she had been invited by The Master's College cross-country team to the men's qualifying race of the 2010 NAIA National Championships, so she came to see the team for herself.

On that day, The Mustang freshman duo of John Gilbertson and Anthony Pizzo crossed the finish line in qualifying time in the 5k, and Kellerman was on her way to being convinced. Soon it would be her turn to wear the blue and gold.

Kellerman has made running a part of her life as long as she can remember. The daughter of a cross-country and track coach, she was immersed in it from a young age. Her career grew from running 7th grade track to competing in high school.

Her pastor recommended she attend The Master’s College but she hesitated to to consider the distant school. She still contacted the cross-country coaches, Zach and Amie Shroeder, and accepted their invitation to visit.

Kellerman was skeptical when told that the Santa Clarita Valley was a good place to run cross-country.

“I believed them, but not really,” Kellerman jokes. “But it's true.”

Kellerman was so impressed by her visit that she applied and was accepted.

Besides the good running trails, the women’s team did not have much going for it during Kellerman’s first year. She and her roommate, Katrina Graham, were two of six freshmen to join the team that fall.

“We had two returning girls so there wasn't even a team,” Graham says.

Kellerman began to train hard but didn’t see results early on. Added to that, she had unbalanced levels of iron in her body. She was frustrated with her slow performances during the time it took to figure out what medication would work.

“My coach through those times told me that long-distance running takes time, a long time sometimes to see the benefits and results of the work you put in,” Kellerman says. “I think over the years consistency has been the key and just the support and encouragement from coaches, teammates, friends and family.”

Sophomore Karis Frankian, who has been Kellerman’s co-captain for the 2013 season, says the effort and patience are paying off.

“She was really struggling," she says. "They were fixing her iron the whole time but it finally started paying off last year. This year she’s running phenomenal.”

Kellerman has been TMC's best runner this year, pacing the team at invitationals and helping lead the Lady Mustangs to a No. 7 ranking in the NAIA national poll. On Oct. 12, she took first at the Vanguard Invitational at Costa Mesa, Calif. The team finished in a tie for second place out of 18 teams, setting a team time record in the process.

The encouragement and sense of community Kellerman feels from the team has played a key part in her success. Growing up, she had always envisioned fellowship as merely having friends, getting together and having a meal. But she has realized fellowship goes deeper.

“Fellowship is really sharing life in common, and it encompasses all that you do. I live life with my teammates and we do pretty much everything together,” Kellerman says.

The team consistently keeps the unofficial curfew of getting to bed around eight or nine because of the run every morning at six. It’s an experience that blesses Kellerman every day as she sees God’s creation and worships Him as she runs. The pain and weakness her body feels humbles and reminds her of the need she has to be dependent on the Lord.

“It’s always hard no matter what,” Frankian says. “If it's not hard that day, you’re wrecked from the day before because that day was hard. You’re always exhausted and beat up.”

The intense exertion builds community within the team.

“When you suffer together you grow closer together,” Graham says.

Another bond the team shares is dietary restrictions. Team members are not allowed to have sugar during the year except for the two weeks after Nationals, the race that could qualify the team for the NAIA Championship. Sugar blocks muscle recovery, among other ill effects.

Frankian described the craziness after Nationals. The whole team had already eaten dinner, desert and consumed sweet coffee before they went out late looking for ice cream. They were in a small rural area in Oregon but they managed to find an Ihop and everyone bought a milkshake, including Kellerman, who ordered a big one.

“She finished hers in less than five minutes,” Frankian says, “I got one but didn’t really want it because it was so full of sugar. [Kellerman] said, ‘Oh, I’ll take it.’ She was crazy. She had just had a lot of sugar and caffeine that day and was absolutely wrecked from the race. That was my favorite memory of her because she never gets like that.”

Kellerman is a much calmer person off sugar.

“She will always be a role model,” Frankian says. “In training, running, sleeping, eating and everything. She has such a heart for the Lord and a passion to always follow Him. That’s where she's really made an impact on my life.”

The two words Graham uses to describe Kellerman are “loving and tenacious.”

“She’s tough [and] she’s fearless. She never gets stressed out," Frankian says. "It's not like she doesn't care; she just wants to do her best. Whether it’s a 100 percent or a fail, it’s her best.”

Kellerman demonstrated her tenacity a few years ago during the annual summer camp for the cross-country teams at Mammoth Lakes, Calif. At one point the men and women compete in an event created by their coaches called The Great Race. Two teams were created of both guys and girls to compete against each other in a scavenger hunt that circled Hume Lake.

The crazy tasks included carrying a boat for a distance and assembling a Lego car on a bridge spanning part of the lake. At one point the guys had to carry the girls downhill, but the girls had to haul the guys up the hill.

Near the end Kellerman was running with a freshman girl while trying to catch up to some very competitive men from the other team.

“I was trying to encourage her like, ‘Jess, come on this is for Nationals. Are you going to give up at Nationals?’ I was going over the top encouraging her. Long story short at the end of the Great Race I had a pulled hamstring and she was crying because we were just so wrecked.”

Recently, Kellerman tested herself at the Stanford Invitational held on Sept. 28. The race is run on grass and provides valuable experience for Nationals, which are likewise run on grass.

The main difference is that the Stanford race is a 6k event instead of the typical 5k race TMC runner are used to. Kellerman was among the top ten runners for the first three quarters of the race, rubbing elbows with some of the best female collegiate runners in the world.

The last quarter of the race was a struggle for her, part of which was due to the extra 1k. Kellerman still finished 23rd out of 222 runners and was the first Mustang to cross the finish line. The women’s cross country team finished third among non-Division 1 teams.

Kellerman described running at Stanford as “a really special experience and what we train for.”

Kellerman loves running and wants to keep competing after her collegiate years are over.

About her future, Kellerman says, “We'll see what doors the Lord opens and what opportunities present themselves.”

Jonathan Wais is a TMC communications major.