WHITEHALL – Cami Kraai was born to run and be active.
The Whitehall High School junior is happiest when she’s running or cross-training. She’s been coached by the likes of the late Olympian Paul McMullen with the Chariots of Fire Track Club starting in seventh grade, which has only reinforced her passion.
“We’d always say, ‘God made me fast’ from Chariots and I think (having fun and keeping a positive attitude) are the two really big things – to just really make the sport fun because otherwise you can’t enjoy it,” Kraai said.
Growing pains in her knees have prevented Kraai from making a run at a spot in the MHSAA cross country state finals in her previous two seasons, but she’s hoping to change that this Friday when Whitehall competes in a Division 2 regional at Remus Chippewa Hills.
From a regional, the top three teams and any individuals receiving a medal for a top-15 finish will qualify for the Nov. 4 state finals at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
Kraai was a state finals qualifier in track last spring, finishing 15th in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:23.51.
This cross-country season, Kraai posted a personal-record time of 19:41.2 in the first meet, the Under the Lights Invite hosted by Grand Rapids South Christian. Recently, she finished third in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association meet at University Park Golf Course with a time of 19:45.1. Last week, Kraai placed sixth among West Michigan Conference Lakes Division runners in the WMC Mega Meet at Mason County Fairgrounds.
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
“We are working through different race strategies and workouts this season, so it’s been an adjustment season for her and the rest of the team,” said Jeff Bassett, who is in his first season as Whitehall’s cross country coach. “We are going to do our best to get the right recipe of preparation and race plan for the upcoming regional race on Oct. 27. I’m excited to see what our teams will do.”
Kraai is eager to compete, but more than anything, she just wants to stay healthy.
In addition to her training, Kraai has running in her blood. The 16-year-old daughter of Aaron and Madge Kraai has followed in the footsteps of her father, who has run marathons, including at Boston.
Aaron Kraai still trains with his daughter. She said he claims to be faster than her, but she denied it with a hearty laugh.
At 5-foot-3, Cami Kraai has a smaller frame but she possesses a non-stop motor. She also enjoys paddleboarding, trail biking, road biking, and cross-country skiing.
Kraai’s cross-training influence largely derived from McMullen, a well-known middle-distance runner, who passed away in 2021, as well as from current Chariots of Fire coach Seamus Noonan.
“Cross training’s just really important because it exercises the muscles you don’t use in running,” she said.
Kraai also thrives in school, carrying a 4.087 GPA. Her favorite class is psychology.
A large part of running, as with many other sports, is the mental aspect. Kraai estimates that running is 70 percent mental, if not higher.
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
“Actually, I love to run and don’t hate it. I look forward to running every day,” she said. “I think it’s a mindset because some just really want it and some just have a goal in mind and they really want to get it.”
Said Bassett: “When I first met Cami, I could tell she had lots of talent and after coaching her I have seen her great work ethic that goes hand-in-hand with that talent. I can tell she wants to succeed and is willing to put in the work.”
Kraai has a sweet disposition, a trait supported by her close friend, classmate, and teammate, Adalyn Britton.
Kraii and Britton are two of Whitehall’s top runners and they’re in the Chariots of Fire Track Club together.
“She’s really kind, she’s thoughtful. She always cares about other people’s feelings and making sure that she doesn’t upset anybody else. And she’s just really hard-working,” said Britton, who added in school Kraai is the type to get things done right away rather than procrastinating tasks.
“She’s a good runner, she’s a strong runner. Even if things aren’t going her way, she always tries her hardest.”
Kraai recalled running during her middle-school days with Hart siblings Jessica and Bobby Jazwinski on their family’s blueberry farm. She said those summer workouts were “crazy,” that their hill workouts were very difficult.
Beyond high school, the braces-wearing Kraai is interested in studying to become an orthodontist.
“I really want to run in college and then, if I’m done running in college, I want to start doing marathons and trail marathons,” Kraai said. “I think that would be fun when I’m older. And then possibly do triathlons because I swim and bike. I think that would be very fun.”
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