No Shoes, No Problem For Dover Invite Champion Kali Wallace

Photo Credit: Claymont Cross Country Program

By Mark Dwyer - MileSplit

Kali Wallace, a freshman from Claymont, entered competition last Saturday at the Dover Invitational prepared to encounter some familiar challenges that one would expect from the highly regarded annual meet. 

Namely, the fierce competition that's drawn from the separately scored, but collectively shared combined Division Small Schools and Large Schools contest. Plus the unforgiving, hill-laden 5-kilometer route that the host Tornadoes squad offers to their visiting teams.

In fact Dover's grueling home course has gained the rightful reputation over the years of acting as an excellent early season benchmark for runners who are looking to gain a true understanding of where their fitness levels and competitive grit currently reside.

In those respects, Dover certainly delivered for Wallace. 

A challenge she couldn't possibly have anticipated, however, was a mid-race mishap that led to her losing both shoes. 

The culprit wasn't a tangling of feet with fellow competitors that often happens on the XC field and the track or gliding through thick mud, which also isn't by any means uncommon in cross country. Rather, while scaling the daunting Deis Hill which is stationed approximately half-way through the race, Wallace inexplicably lost both of her spikes in a matter of strides. 

"It was very unexpected to lose my running spikes. They're very short and dense in the back and as I was working my way up the hill they just came off," Wallace said. 

With that development and considering the hilly and gravel-based sections still to come over the next 1.5+ miles, deciding to stop and put the spikes back on, and lose critical time in the process, or step off the course entirely and look forward to racing another day would seem like reasonable decisions. 

Neither of those options resonated with Wallace, though. 

"When my running shoes came off my only thought was to keep going and work on bridging the gap that the leader had created," Wallace said. 

Running in the second overall position at the time, Wallace then put on display the drive and tenacity that has defined the early stages of her running career. 

A multiple-time OHSAA middle school state champion and an individual titleist at two previous meets during the 2023 fall campaign, Wallace's sole focus was to adapt to the newfound circumstances and do whatever she could to negotiate through the dilemma she was facing. 

"I just told myself that it's ok if I don't get first, but to make sure that I don't give up and that I do my best," Wallace said. 

That poise and determination Wallace demonstrated would serve her well in the latter periods of the race, as she eventually clawed her way back in contention and then ultimately poured it on late to claim not only the Small Schools victory, but also secure the overall combined division title with a 20:13.7 finishing mark. 

It was a remarkable effort and one that falls in line with what Claymont coach Adam Rogers has come to expect from Wallace. 

"I didn't realize that she was running only in her socks. How she maintained that vicious pace while climbing hills, running over gravel and through the woods, I'll never know," Rogers said.

A coaching partnership that dates back all the way to when Wallace was in second grade, Rogers is highly impressed with his runner's seamless transition to the demands that comprise the high school level. 

"She's finally a freshman and we thought there could possibly be some early struggles with the transition to high school, but Kali has only gotten stronger and she's undefeated so far this season. She's got a killer mentality. The kid is just a monster," Rogers said. 

Wallace didn't escape the Dover experience completely unscathed, however, as she's dealt with some minor foot pain and a few bruises since race day, but ultimately she views what occurred as a confidence builder and one that will pay dividends when presented with future cases of adversity. 

"After going through this, now I just know that moving forward when I'm in a bad spot I have come back before and I can do it again", Wallace said. 

While the bad spots she noted will no doubt arise, bet on Wallace to overcome them. She is a focused and determined athlete who has established major goals, both short-term and long-term, that she's committed to fulfilling. 

"Eventually I want to break my school's records and get a college scholarship for running, but for now I'm so excited about my team and our season."

"We've got a great shot at making it to Regionals and whether it be with my team or individually, I am very determined to make it to the state meet."

"With the amazing coaching we receive from Coach Rogers, I know we'll be able to accomplish our goals," Wallace said.