CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Rachel Walny didn’t know what to expect when she joined Chippewa Valley’s track and field team as a freshman.
Fast forward to her senior season, and Walny, who is a student at the International Academy of Macomb but competes for the Big Reds, has logged countless miles to become one of Macomb County’s best long-distance runners.
Her improvement during her junior season, which was capped off by winning the 1,600- and 3,200-meter events at regionals, caught the attention of college coaches, and that led her to accepting a spot on Bowling Green State University’s team next year.
When Walny started out with the Big Reds, head coach Terry Wilson, then an assistant, noticed that she was a talented distance runner, but her improvement in sprinting elevated her to become a top runner in the region.
“What I noticed about her when she first started running track here, it just seemed like she could run forever,” Wilson said. “Through the years, we’ve given her more strategy to work on within each race she runs in. Sometimes, we put her in the quarter mile to get some speed work in, and she’s really bought into it.”
Walny has set school records for the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, and she also holds Chippewa’s cross country record. Walny explained that about midway through last season was when she began to realize that running in college may be possible.
“As I went on with more training, I kind of realized that I could be really good at this. I just put everything I could into training, and I had so much help from my coaches along the way,” Walny said.
Chippewa distance coach Debbie Palazzolo echoed Walny’s feelings that her training came to an apex at regionals last year.
“The regional meet was one of those meets that everything came together, and everything that I had been trying to tell her all season all happened and came together at one time and one place,” Palazzolo said. “I think that’s when she believed me and what I was doing with all the crazy stuff I was having her do at practice, and I think we have great things to do this year to continue that.”
Walny, a distance sprinter by trade, explained some of the different things Palazzolo and Wilson had her do to improve her speed.
“I’ve definitely done a lot more, as far as speed work goes, the past couple of years. I know freshman and sophomore year, I really didn’t do that much, and we don’t really do that much during cross country season, either, so I’ve done a lot of that during track. It helps a lot, so I like that aspect of it.”
As Walny has improved, so has the Chippewa track program. After being in the middle of the pack in the MAC Blue for several seasons, Chippewa has won 13 consecutive dual meets. Last year, the Big Reds scored 221 points in the MAC Blue championship meet while winning by 134 points.
“Since our freshman year, we’ve all been improving a lot. When we came in, Chippewa wasn’t up there in our division or region or anything, and now we’re going for our third division championship,” Walny said.
Walny was voted as a captain of Chippewa’s team this spring, and Wilson said that she has led by example to keep the Big Reds on top of the division.
“She’s a fierce competitor. You just can’t tell that until you see her run in a relay. That’s when you see it come out. The relay team that she runs on, they’ve been running together for four years now. They came on when we weren’t that good, and they helped boost up our entire program just by their work ethic and their tenacity,” Wilson said.
A minor injury at the start of the season slowed Walny’s times this spring, but she and her coaches still have her on track to accomplish her goals of repeating as regional champion in the distance races, and then earn All-State honors at the state meet.
Walny said she plans to major in exercise science and nutrition at Bowling Green.
Chippewa Valley will be running in the Warren Mott state regional meet on May 16. Following that, the Big Reds will run in the MAC Blue Division meet at Sterling Heights on May 20.