Many kids grow up trying different sports – with the hopes they find one that they really enjoy and can focus on. Soccer, hockey, basketball, football and baseball have always been the big five but there also is tennis and golf and running and field hockey and an ever growing list.
Skyline’s Hobbs Kessler didn’t exactly find one off that list when he was younger so he went a different direction – rock climbing. Some people don’t even realize it’s a competitive sport, but Kessler loved it right away and grew up with it since his parents were both into it.
So, one day he decided to follow his parents up the rock.
And this was by no means just a hobby or fun activity for a little boy. This was serious business and he climbed to some pretty impressive heights in the sport.
“It’s just something I’ve done since I was really little,” Kessler says. “It was my main sport up until about a year ago. It was the sport I wanted to work the hardest at and improve the most in until I decided to focus entirely on running.”
Kessler qualified for the Youth Rock Climbing World Championships last summer – so, yeah, he was pretty good. “It’s always been a big part of me and probably always will be,” he says. “I still enjoy doing it and still climb a couple times a week just because I enjoy it.”
He also enjoys running, and that’s not only where his attention is, but where his heart is at the moment. You don’t get to be at this level in anything without it being something you truly enjoy doing. And Kessler finds himself at the top of the cross country world.
“Right now, I am focused entirely on being the best runner I can be,” he says. “I think my experience in rock climbing helps a little with the mental side of running. Anytime you are competing, it gives you more experience in dealing with nerves and pressure situations.”
Kessler’s full attention now is on winning a Division 1 State Title in cross country at MIS next month. And he’s taking that same focus and dedication and passion that he applied to rock climbing and applying it to running.
And it seems to be working. Kessler placed sixth overall at the Division 1 MHSAA State Finals last year at MIS with a time of 15:36.1, outkicking Hartland’s Riley Hough to the wire in a dramatic finish.
We mention Hough because the two runners met up earlier in the year in a dual-meet where Kessler again finished in front with a time of 15:14.29 to Hough’s 15:17.57. Another close finish and both should be among the top runners this year when the final times are recorded.
Kessler has finished first in all five of Skyline’s races this season including in Saturday’s race at Pioneer. His PR so far this year came against Dexter when he ran a time of 15:13.5.
So far, so good for the speedy Kessler.
“I was happy with my training during quarantine,” he said following his race at Pioneer. “Right now I’ve been hitting it really hard so I’m going to be backing off a little right now so when the time comes (for the state finals) I will be ready to go.”
“Ready to go” from a physical standpoint, but there is a huge mental side to running and it’s something that Kessler continues to explore, play with and learn from. He seems to actually enjoy that very important aspect of running.
“First of all, running hurts,” he says. “There is no other way to describe it and no way around it. You have to understand it’s going to hurt and be fine with that and make the right decisions, not necessarily the comfortable ones.
“You also have to run with intention and purpose and just being competitive.”
Kessler also is preparing for another kind of race next year when he runs off to Northern Arizona University, one of the top running programs in the country. The Lumberjacks became the first NAU team in any sport to win a national championship when they won the 2016 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Kessler’s decision came down to being a Lumberjack or a Wolverine.
“It was a harder decision than I thought it would be,” Kessler says. “I contacted some schools and they replied to me and I started developing a real positive relationship with them. There were so many reasons why I wanted to go there.”
The school is located in Flagstaff, Ariz., and the location definitely had something to do with his decision. And sometimes, kids just want to move away and try something new and different and warmer.
“I really love it there and it’s a place I can see myself really enjoying,” Kessler says. “They were amazing during the recruiting process. They never tried to pressure me or anything like that. They let me take my time and make the decision.”
Kessler will be spending his time over the next month getting ready for the biggest race of his high school career. He’s climbed some pretty high mountains already in his young life but MIS may just be his biggest challenge yet.
He seems ready to reach the highest level.