For cross country runner Elly Henes, running has always been in her blood. Her mother and coach, Laurie Henes, was a finalist at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field, and her father was an All-American in track and field and cross country for the Wolfpack.
“I started running because I got cut from the soccer team in seventh or eighth grade, and I realized I wanted to do another sport,” Elly Henes said. “One thing I was really good at in soccer was kicking the ball away from people and getting to it first, so track and field sounded like the best option.”
Both of Elly Henes’ parents went to NC State, so the Wolfpack was a perfect fit for her when she decided to enroll in 2016.
“One of the biggest factors is that it feels like home," Elly Henes said. "This team feels like my family, and my coach feels like my mom, but I think this program, when you take visits, you kind of get a feel for the program and the people that are there, and when I took my visit here, everyone was just such a fun-loving group but also focused on their goals, and I really liked the fact that I could have a balance of both and just have a good time while also getting stuff done.”
Laurie Henes was the associate head coach when Elly Henes chose to come to NC State. Elly Henes was raised cheering for the Wolfpack and has grown up in a household of runners, so it comes naturally to her.
“I think in the beginning, it was a little more intimidating, because I got questions like ‘have you reached your PRs yet’ or ‘have you lived up to this or that yet,’" Elly Henes said. "You kind of just have to push that in the back of your head and just focus on the fact that she knows what's best for me. She knows how to push me. She knows how my mind works, so now it's definitely motivating.”
Elly and Laurie Henes have not always been a daughter/coach duo, but since they have become one, it has been encouraging for both of them to have each other.
“It’s really been a lot of fun,” Laurie Henes said. “I think unlike some situations like this, I didn’t work with her in high school at all. There were times I didn’t know what her workouts were, so early on in her career, we thought we wouldn’t do this, but if I had done this when she was 14 or 15, it wouldn’t have worked out at all. She's become a lot more serious about the sport, and this was just the place for her, and she felt that on her visit.”
Elly Henes credits her success and the way she runs to her mother, who has been her inspiration from the start.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but it's gotta be my mom,” Elly Henes said. “Just the way that she raised me and the way that she handles herself with the team, and I've seen it since I was a kid. I would hear recruiting calls when I was a child, and I just love the way that she carries herself inside and outside of the running world, and that's just something that I really look up to and inspires me.”
Elly Henes prides herself on being a strong leader; as her mom would say, “Leading by example helps the younger kids”.
“I think a lot of that is about just listening to people,” Elly Henes said. “Being there for people on good days and bad days. It could be a supportive, ‘Your workout looked really good,’ or just checking in on someone, sending them a text or sitting down with them one-on-one, because being a good leader is just about being a good teammate and friend.”
That supportive streak is something that has not gone unnoticed by both those on her team or the coaches, including her mother.
“I think she really notices when the younger kids are struggling and feels like that kind of happened to her early in her career, so she's done a really good job of focusing on people who have been struggling a bit and making sure they stay in it and motivated,” Laurie Henes said. “And then just her work ethic; she's very consistent at practice and very consistent in her racing, so I think leading by example helps as well.”
That work ethic is driving Elly Henes toward her ultimate goal: a top-five finish at nationals.
“Cross country nationals is just a race of grit," Elly Henes said. "You start off the race hard and it doesn’t get easier until the end. You just have to wait until you cross the line to be able to breathe again, so I'm just really hoping that I can give everything I have on that day, and one of my individual goals has been to get top 5 at a nationals meet, so that's definitely something I'm looking at, but really it's just to see how hard I can push myself on that day.”