You never know the impact of fashion.
When Caitlyn Bell was in seventh grade, her dad, Patrick Bell, was running in marathons. She found the whole thing appealing.
“I thought it looked cool and I thought the outfits were cool because he wore bright clothes all the time,” she recalled on Wednesday.
So one day, when he was in training, Caitlyn posed a question.
“I said, ‘Can I go run a mile with you?’” she related.
Of course, dad said she could and, well, that started.
“I ran my first mile ever in like seventh-something minutes,” Caitlyn stated. “He said, ‘She may be kind of good at this.’ So I started running with him. I won my division in the very first 5K I ever ran.
“He suggested maybe I should get into the school program,” she continied. “I talked to the track coach and I started track and it went to cross country. I’ve been doing it ever since then.”
And now she will continue beyond high school as Bell, with her mom Darlene, dad and brother Ben Patrick Bell on hand, signed a letter of intent to continue her education, track and cross country career at University of the Ozarks, a Division III school in Clarksville.
Bell is a four-year letterman in both cross country and track for head coach Danny Westbrook at Bryant. She was named all-State and all-conference three times and contributed to cross country conference championships in 2011 and 2014. She was named to the Arkansas cross country all-star team in 2012 and 2014. As a member of the 4×800-meter relay for the Lady Hornets’ track and field squad, she competed at the Meet of Champs in 2014.
On Thursday, May 7, Bell and many of her Bryant teammates will be competing at the Class 7A State championship track and field meet after they finished second at the 7A-East/Central conference meet on April 24.
“Caitlyn is one of the greatest competitors and hardest workers I have coached,” said Westbrook who has been at it for over 30 years. “She has committed herself over the years to the hard training of distance running and is seeing that hard work payoff by being able to run at the collegiate level. Her leadership and exemplary work ethic will be missed, but we wish her well in her future college career.”
During the Lady Hornets’ conference championship cross country performance in the fall, Bell joined teammate Hannah Shelby in the top five.
“Going in we were definitely not the favorite to win,” said Westbrook, whose team surprised pre-meet favorite Cabot. “I just really didn’t think we had a shot. We had several people step up and Caitlyn was big time. She was a big instigator in that.
“She works hard at it,” he continued. “Her dad is really helpful with inspiring her at home, which is good from a coach’s standpoint because a lot of times, kids go home and they never do anything, only when you see them. So the other 22 hours that I wasn’t seeing her, he was helping me out, getting her in shape, having her run on weekends, stuff like that.
“Several races that I remember where she could’ve tanked it and decided ‘I’m just going to settle for third place,’ but she went after it,” the coach concluded. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Her abilities were apparent to Westbrook early on. When she was a freshman, he moved her up to the varsity team.
“I’m a really competitive person so I was always competitive in it,” Bell mentioned.
As a sophomore, however, she started finishing in the top five at the cross country meets.
“Everybody’s important on the team but when I started getting into the top five and I started realizing I could stay up front with the fast people in the races, I was like, ‘I could probably do this in college. I could get money for this or something.’”
Actually, a year ago, Bell didn’t even know about University of the Ozarks. But when she was at a cross country meet at Russellville, Eagles coach Jeremy Provence was there as well.
“He started telling me about it and he gave me his information,” Bell recalled. “I started looking into it. I didn’t necessarily want to go to a huge college whenever I started looking at colleges.”
She took a visit.
“It’s not very big,” she acknowledged. “And, when I was there, every single person that I walked by on the sidewalk smiled at me or said Hi. I fell in love. I just knew that it was going to be a good place for me. And I’m going to be able to run there and that’s awesome. I’m excited.
“I went back for Scholar Weekend and I got to stay in the dorm with some of the cross country girls and they were just so nice and welcoming. I was like, ‘I would really just be happy here. I know I would be.’”
“Caitlyn has had a fantastic career at Bryant and has accomplished great things,” Provence said via email. “She will have the opportunity to be a difference maker for the cross country and track programs at University of the Ozarks.
“Caitlyn has gone toe-to-toe with some of the best 7A student-athletes in Arkansas,” he noted. “She understands what it takes to be successful at a high level.”
At Bryant, Bell has a 3.9 grade point average.
“I want to be a Radiologist so I’ll probably do a double major in Kinesiology and Biology,” she said.
“Caitlyn is an accomplished academic,” Provence stated. “She’s impressed me and others at the university with her ability to maintain an outstanding academic record throughout her career.
“The support she has received from her family, her coach, her teammates, and the faculty and staff at Bryant has been a great thing to see,” he continued. “I look forward to having her experience and leadership for the next four years.”
“I’ll never forget my team because I honestly think that we’re a lot of closer than most sports teams are,” Bell related. “We’re not just teammates. We’re genuine friends.”
Bell and her friends will compete together a couple of more times then she’ll be donning the purple and gold at Ozarks.