The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

Four laps, four girls, one team

The Bethel University women’s 4×400 team has become a family that continues to break records and win championships.
Ashlee Mortenson
Shalom Sulungaine passes the baton to Abbie Swenson during their 4×400 relay Saturday, April 13. The women’s team has been breaking records all season and the athletes were excited to compete on their home track. “Kelsie always tells me, ‘You being stressed means you care,’” Swenson said. “‘If you weren’t stressed then I’d be concerned.’”

Kelsie Sealock laces her neon pink spikes. She lifts her hands and says a prayer for clarity and guidance. It’s one lap. The sun is shining, the sky is blue for the first time in weeks and her team is on the sidelines. It’s one lap. She looks straight ahead at the blue track and takes her mark. The gun pops. One lap. 

The women’s 4×400-meter relay added another MIAC championship to their trophy case during the 2024 Indoor Track and Field Division III season. Their performance earned them a trip to Nationals in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where they placed seventh overall. Now the team looks toward another record-breaking spring season. 

Fifth-year Sealock led the women’s 4×400 running the first lap, followed by junior Hailey Gregg. Next came senior Abbie Swenson and freshman Shalom Sulungaine as the anchor. At Nationals, the women finished the four laps in 3:50.65. 

“The fact that we were able to pull that off makes me really proud of our team,” Gregg said. 

Now the team wants to bring that momentum into the outdoor season. Although running separate races, the men’s and women’s teams work together in practice to push each other and their limits. Only four women are chosen to run in the 4×400 relay, and 16 women compete each day in practice for a spot on the team.

The 4x4oo team at Nationals was composed of women from different levels. Sulungaine came in as a freshman and Swenson had never run the 4×400 event before, while Gregg and Sealock had been to Nationals in previous seasons. The different ages give depth to the team, which Sealock believes is one of the reasons for their success. Gregg says that Sealock’s experience keeps the team grounded and she plays the role of the “mother figure,” whereas Sulungaine brings joy, liveliness and an encouraging spirit to the team.

Kelsie Sealock waits for the gun to go off. She is the starter for the Bethel women’s 4×400. This is Sealock’s fifth season racing in a Royals jersey, and every time she’s on the track she proves that she is not done yet. “Some of my favorite parts about the 4×4 [are] being able to laugh, support, serve and love one another. I love being able to run together as we all have the same mission to glorify the Lord,” Sealock said. (Ashlee Mortenson)
“We compete so well together because we have a relationship with one another,” Sealock said. “Each of us values knowing each other’s goals, aspirations and how we can best support each other in track and in life.”

Gregg has struggled with health problems since she started running in sixth grade. She’s dealt with neurocardiogenic syncope, which means at the end of every race, she faints as her body gives out on her. Over the years, she’s learned how to deal with it — and even though it’s scary, she continues to show up to every race. To Gregg, it’s worth it because of the team behind her.

She knows that the minute she crosses the finish line, her team will be there to catch her when she falls — literally. Swenson has dealt with meet anxiety throughout her entire career, but continues to run because of her team. Sulungaine wants to become more confident during her races. She’s thankful to have a group of women she can count on — they’re her biggest cheerleaders. 

“Ultimately, with the 4×400, none of this would be possible without the other three girls,” Swenson said. “This is very much not an individual event, and I pretty much just want to shout out the other three girls because they are amazing.”

The nerves, the running and the Bethel jerseys unite the women’s team. But it’s not just the women’s 4×400 — it’s the whole track and field team. 

After practices, the team goes to the Monson Dining Center for team dinners. Most evenings, they take over three rectangular tables that sit in the center of the DC. When there’s not enough room, they move the tables together so they can all sit as one. They all laugh with each other as they talk about the test they had in chemistry that day, the newest thrift shop they explored that weekend or how nice it is that there wasn’t snow during practice that day.

Some of the team’s closeness can be credited to their faith. For the runners, it’s easier to let go and celebrate because they say everything they do is for God’s glory. Every day before practice starts, the team forms a circle on the track. They stand side by side as one of the athletes reads a verse and the others repeat it back in unison. Every Thursday, someone leads a devotional at weekly team meetings, after which the team then splits into small groups and prays over each other. For one devotion, senior Annessa Ihde read John 17:9 to encourage the team. 

Shalom Sulungaine and Kelsie Sealock untie Anessa Ihde’s spikes after they finished their 4×400 relay. The team ended up finishing the four laps in 3:53.69 — a new season record for the racers. “We’re all in this together, and all I have to do is run like I’ve done the entire season. Just run a lap,” Sulungaine said. (Ashlee Mortenson)

“All I can say is, I would not be doing track if I didn’t love the team,” Ihde said. “We run for each other.”

Race days are filled with energy, excitement, nerves and warmups — lots of warmups. On the bus to the meet, the teams play rounds of Photo Roulette, an app game that involves going through each other’s camera rolls and guessing which photos belong to who. At the track, they go through their routines, each one catered to the individual. Dynamic stretching — open the gate, close the gate — a nice warm-up jog, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, go time. After the race, teammates sprint over to the racers and collapse on them, jumping up and down. TikToks are filmed, cheering echoes in the air and personal records are set.

Head Coach Andrew Rock made his team this way. It is rare to walk by his office, located in the trenches of the HC100s near the post office, and not see athletes sitting inside watching TikToks or updating Rock on the events of their college lives. In 2004, Rock won a gold medal as a part of the U.S. men’s 4×400 relay at the Olympic games in Athens, Greece. For the 2023 indoor season, he was named Women’s Indoor MIAC Coach of the Year. He wants his team to succeed, and he doesn’t let any of the 115 athletes slip through the cracks.

Before every MIAC championship, the team has a tradition where they get together before the race and watch an old commercial for the grocery store Festival Foods that Coach Rock filmed during his time in the Olympics. And because it only happens once a year, for a moment, there is nothing that brings the team together more than watching their coach eat a donut in the middle of a grocery store. 

Bethel hosted their home invitational meet Saturday, April 13. 16 teams showed up to compete on Bethel’s home track, and after the Royal’s performance at Hamline the week before, they were ready to break records. The 16 women had been putting up impressive numbers in practice, so Bethel entered two 4×400 teams into the relay. The winning team from Bethel consisted of Sealock, Sulungain, Swenson and Ihde finishing as the anchor. The team ended in first place, finishing the four laps in 3:53.69, ranking nationally as the ninth-fastest time in Division III. 

“It’s a good sign when the biggest competition is your team’s other 4×400,” Ihde said. 

With under two weeks left in the regular season, the Royals continue to look toward another championship. For Sulungaine, she’s excited to have three more years to continue pushing her limits and finding a family within the team. For seniors like Sealock and Ihde, this ending brings the closing of their career. They will continue to fight at their last meets, giving everything they have to the team that has shaped their college careers. They will lace their brightly-colored spikes, pray for each other and then they’ll run — like they’ve always done. After all, it’s one lap.

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About the Contributors
Taylor Hanson
Taylor Hanson, Sports Editor
Taylor Hanson, 19, is a sophomore organizational communications major with a journalism minor. Taylor is involved at Bethel as a Shift leader and as the Director of Intramurals. She loves finding coffee shops tucked away in the cities, going to any athletic event or scootering around campus with her friends.  [email protected] | 720.425.5218
Ashlee Mortenson, Staff Photographer
Ashlee Mortenson, 20, is a junior missional ministries major and communications minor. In her free time, Ashlee enjoys reading, rock climbing, watching “That 70’s Show”, embroidering, working on random art projects, collecting mugs and spending time with friends. [email protected] | 612.940.8029

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