Girls' cross country preview: Cullenberg keeps family legacy running

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Mt. Blue’s Kahryn Cullenberg runs during the annual Laliberte Invitational on Friday at Cony High School in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

FARMINGTON — Kahryn Cullenberg has been running for as long as she can remember.

At four years old, Kahryn followed in her older siblings’ footsteps and competed on the local summer track team. At around the age of eight, Kahryn’s mother, and now her track and cross country coach, Kelley Cullenberg took over as coach and they’ve been together ever since.

“I really liked it,” Kahryn Cullenberg said. “I haven’t had any issues having my parents as my coaches. It’s been nice. High school is definitely a step up still, though.”

Following Addie and Kelton Cullenberg’s legacies at Mt. Blue, Kahryn has enjoyed her own success running in high school. This past spring, Cullenberg battled shin splints throughout the outdoor track season. When it came time for the Class A state meet, Kelton had an idea.

“When I got there that day, I was like, ‘Wow, this is not going to be a good day. My shins are hurting so bad,’” Cullenberg said. “Fortunately, my brother, Kelton, was there and he’s a physical therapist and he was telling me, ‘You know, I think if I gave you a massage it might be more beneficial than doing a warm-up with where you are right now.’ So he ended up just giving me a big massage and then I didn’t even do a warm-up and I ended up having a great race because I didn’t do anything before. Then, a few minutes after getting off the line, he said, ‘OK, let me massage you again.’ We just did that over and over and it helped a lot.”

Cullenberg finished sixth in the 800-meter run and fifth in the 1,600 as a sophomore. Coming into this cross country season as a junior, Cullenberg hopes to improve upon her 25th-place finish at the state meet a year ago.

“Something that has helped me that I learned last year is to be more present in races,” Cullenberg said. “It used to be I kind of just zoned out and didn’t remember all the details from my race, but now I am there and I know where everyone is and where I am, and it’s helped a lot. Sometimes I will write my goals for my splits on my hand and I’ll listen for my mom because I know that voice very well.”

Her coach has noticed Kahryn’s maturity as a runner, as well, and knew it was only a matter of time before it all clicked for her daughter.

“She’s pretty good at pacing, I think it’s just natural in her brain,” Kelley Cullenberg said. “Even in summer track, watching her she would drive me insane because she would take the first lap out so easy. It really wasn’t easy but it would just look it because the other girls would go out way too fast and I would be like, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got to get up on everyone else.’ She knew, even at 10 or 12, she would be able to catch up eventually, and that’s not something you can so much coach.”

At last year’s Festival of Champions meet in Belfast, Cullenberg knocked more than a minute off her personal best time, going from 21:09 to 19:57 in one race. Cullenberg has started to increase her mileage a bit this summer, running four miles a day rather than two or three, though she has never been a high-mileage runner to begin with. Last fall Kahryn was doing speed workouts with the boys’ team, which helped her in both cross country and outdoor track.

Her mother believes her positivity and mentality going into races is a huge advantage when racing.

“She is an extremely positive person when it comes to the course or the track and running,” Cullenberg said. “That has everything to do with it. She smiles and keeps things in perspective and we really try to downplay the whole pressure thing because kids have so many pressures on them.”

One goal Kahryn Cullenberg has this season is to get into the 19:30-range this season. One reason for that goal is because Kelley Cullenberg has set up a list of the top-seven cross country times at Mt. Blue High School since she has been the coach, and number seven is 19:37.

Kahryn says she hasn’t had any problems with her mother being her coach since she was eight year old, or with her father being her coach in middle school. Both know, though, that there is a line they have to straddle as Kelley balances being a mother and coach at the same time.

“It’s wonderful to be a parent and be a mom, but I can’t even describe how awesome it is to be in that coach role,” Kelley Cullenberg said. “Sometimes with the girls they played the mom card a little bit. It’s like, if I was your coach, would you be saying to me what you are saying now or are you saying it because I am your mom? I have to draw that line, you want to be empathetic but you also want to make sure everything’s in place.”

Both Kahryn and Kelley understand their roles and have been able to distinguish them. They also both enjoy working together every day.

“She says that sometimes it is hard because she wants to pull the mom card but she also wants to be the coach,” Kahryn Cullenberg said. “Especially when I have been injured, she wants to be like, ‘Oh, you can take it easy.’ But she has to be the coach at the same time but we have to find a balance and she’s done a real good job with that. I still call her ‘Mom’ during practice, though.”

Mt. Blue’s Kahryn Cullenberg crosses a bridge during the annual Laliberte Invitational last Friday at Cony High School in Augusta. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)

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