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Running is their passion

Chelsey Cosslett knew Celia Rodriguez-Gonzalez was passionate about running.

That much was certain before the two ever met.

What Cosslett wasn’t aware of was the type of runner Rodriguez-Gonzalez was.

An exchange student from Spain, Rodriguez-Gonzalez made quite an impression on everyone this spring.

The junior captured two individual titles at the Schuylkill League meet. She followed that performance with a win in the 3200 and a runner-up finish in the 1600 at districts, where she also was a member of the 3200 relay team that advanced to states with a second-place finish.

“I didn’t really have any,” Cosslett said of her expectations for this season. “She ran the 3000 in Spain, and she had a pretty good time. I didn’t really know how to convert it into a 3200 so that was different for me. But we thought that she would do well, maybe make it to leagues. We had no idea that we’d have a track star on our hands. So that was a huge surprise.”

Perfect match

Last July, Cosslett came across a post from ASSE (International Student Exchange Programs) while scrolling Facebook. It was one that was seeking host families.

That started the process, and it didn’t take long - about a week - for Cosslett and her husband Jason to work with a representative setting up profiles to choose a host student.

“We have two little kids, but we have a four-bedroom house, and I looked at my husband and I said, ‘We have a spare room,’” said Cosslett. “So we spent a few days kind of talking it over and trying to imagine what it would be like. But he jumped on board really fast.”

Like Rodriguez-Gonzalez, Chelsey Cosslett is also an avid runner.

“I run ultramarathons, and I spend a lot of my free time running and going to races,” she said. “And when my husband and I talked about getting an exchange student, one of the concerns was, ‘What do we do with a teenager on the weekend if they don’t love running, and they don’t want to go to these races?’ So when I talked to them about how to match that up, they suggested we look through profiles that mentioned running, and when we read Celia’s, she listed how she’s a great student and that she’s very outgoing and she loves to try new things. And then she said running is my passion. And as soon as I read that, I was like. ‘This is it. This is our kid.’

“Ultrarunning isn’t something most people even know very much about, and I wanted to open that world up to as many people as I can. And I also coach cross country. I’m the assistant coach for the high school and the junior high team. So, I wanted somebody who would also be along for that ride with me this year and to experience that whole team as well. So when I read that in her profile and she listed running as her passion, I just felt like that was absolutely perfect for us.”

More than they could have imagined.

Rodriguez-Gonzalez came to the family and started at Jim Thorpe on the second day of the school year. Since Cosslett was coaching and Rodriguez-Gonzalez was living with her, she was unable to participate during the cross country season due to PIAA rules.

But she was very much involved with the team.

“So she was our manager for cross country, and she came to every single practice, she ran every possible thing that she could with the kids,” said Cosslett. “And was such an integral part of that team anyway. She just had to sit out during meets.

“But she asked me if we could do 5Ks together so we were running 5Ks on the weekend and little community races. She was winning them. And it was really cool. She’s never really run a community race before. In Spain, it’s just not something that they offer to teenagers, and so it’s not something that she knew existed. We have really enjoyed running together in all of the different aspects that we’ve had to do this year. It’s been really neat.”

Rodriguez-Gonzalez thrived this spring. She owned area bests for the girls in both the 3200 (12:02.62, her winning time at districts) and 1600 (5:22.45, which she ran at states).

As a member of 3200 relay with Aubrey Bonner, Gabby Cinicola and Nicole Carroll, the group had the area best with a time of 9:57.29, while also establishing a school record in the event.

“I honestly didn’t think my season would be like this,” said Rodriguez-Gonzalez. “I’m so happy.”

Right at home

It didn’t take long for Rodriguez-Gonzalez to settle in with her teammates or around school and the community.

“It’s been a fantastic experience having Celia on the track and field team and in the classroom,” said Olympians track and field coach Frank Miller. “From Day 1 at the start of the school year it was like Celia was a member of the Jim Thorpe High School Community for years. She’s an extremely dedicated student and athlete, she treats everyone with respect, and has a great work ethic that has led to her successes on the track this season.

“Being able to compete at the PIAA State Championships will be a memory for not just her, but for her teammates, and our coaching staff. Celia is one of the nicest kids I have had the chance to work with over the 20 years of teaching and coaching.”

It’s little surprise that Rodriguez-Gonzalez quickly bonded with the Cosslett family.

“It’s been incredible, honestly. My daughter is nine and my son is four, so we didn’t know what it would be like to have a teenager,” said Cosslett. “And it has been so much fun. Celia comes to everything with us. She’s been to the family dinners. She went on trips with us. We’ve gone to Washington D.C., and to New York and to Philadelphia to see all the things that she wanted to see. But we also took her to a Harry Potter exhibit, because my daughter wanted to go to that. And she gets super excited and researches everything and gets as into it as she possibly can so that she can be as excited as the rest of the family. She did the same thing for the Taylor Swift concert we went to. It’s been really cool.

“She helped us with the Elf on the Shelf at Christmastime, because my kids are big believers in that. And she helped us keep the secret but also make it really interesting. And she came up with a lot of really fun ideas. But then at New Years, she taught us the different traditions that she has, like eating a grape during the countdown for the last minute of the year, along with bells tolling, and we got to go through that experience with her. It’s been really neat. She dressed up in a costume and went trick-or-treating with us for Halloween. She’s done everything she possibly can to be apart of our culture, but also to teach us hers.”

And Cosslett has made sure to share the experience with Rodriguez-Gonzalez’s family back in Spain.

“Her parents are very active with communicating with me and Celia,” said Cosslett. “They have weekly phone calls and then I message her mom very frequently and her dad probably every other day to let them all know what’s going on. Pictures, videos, everything I can so that they’re as into this experience as she is.”

Rodriguez-Gonzalez is also an outstanding student, ranking in the top 15% of her class with a 100 GPA.

“She’s very, very dedicated to athletics and to her studies. She gives 100% everywhere she goes. It’s special. You don’t get that out of most teenagers.”

One of a kind

Rodriguez-Gonzalez had extraordinary success as a member of Jim Thorpe’s track team, but that’s not what she’s going to remember most about her time here.

“I feel like, just making friends,” she said. “You make so many friends from sports, any sport. And it should be fun. That’s what I like the most.”

And she’s made many, which will make her return to Spain that much more difficult.

“(Exchange) students have to leave within 10 days of the end of school because their visas expire,” said Cosslett. “So she leaves June 16 and we are not ready for her to leave. We have to get her grades validated. The school has to sign off on them and we have to get them notarized to send them back so that her grades from the year will be accepted back in Spain. And she has accumulated a lot of race T-shirts and shirts from all the different events that she went to, so we have to figure out how we’re getting all that back to Spain in the next two weeks.”

But organizing things to take back with her, isn’t the only thing Rodriguez-Gonzalez will be doing the next couple of weeks.

“She has been recruited by a few different track coaches for some Pennsylvania colleges,” said Cosslett. “So we have some college visits set up that we’re going to go do before she leaves. We’re also planning a trip to the beach - one last hurrah with the kids before she leaves.”

Much like the season, her time in Jim Thorpe has gone by in the blink of an eye.

“It went so fast. We’re sad. We want to do it over,” Cosslett said. “We have our fingers crossed that she’ll come back for college so we can watch her run some more.”

Celia Rodriguez Gonzalez found more than just a school and a team at Jim Thorpe.

She found a home.

“I would recommend this program to anyone who wants to just have a great experience and do something totally new. We learned so much from Celia and I think we taught her a lot as well,” said Cosslett. “It’s been such a wild ride and we have enjoyed every second. She is a part of our family for the rest of our lives. We took in a host student, and we are sending home a family member.”



... With a historic track and field season in the books, Rod Heckman has once again provided some fascinating facts and figures about a spring we won’t soon forget. According to our records, Palmerton’s Nataly Walters is just the third TN area athlete to win two gold medals at that year’s state meet. The others are:

• Coaldale’s Francis Waice (440, 880) in 1942 (Waice also won a gold in 1941 as part of Coaldale’s mile relay team)

Tamaqua’s Trish Plasko (100, 200) in 1987;

• Of note, Palmerton’s Debbie Rodriguez won two gold medals but in different years. She won the long jump in both 1975 and 1976.

Tamaqua’s boys 3200 relay team also won golds in back-to-back years (2001 and 2002). Mark Drum, Brian Cipko and Ricky Cipko were all on the team both years.



... Northwestern’s Faith Yost capped her high school career with a gold medal in the Class 2A high jump and an eighth-place medal in the long jump last Friday. She did that after making a total of 13 attempts in the morning session during the high jump competition before competing in long jump in the afternoon. The Times News/LVHN Female Track and Field Athlete of the Year last spring, Yost has had a stellar career for the Tigers and head coach Chuck Groller, who provided the following information:

• The Northwestern program is 50 years old and she is the first girls track and field athlete to come home with a gold medal from the PIAA Track & Field Championships (the Tiger boys have had two champions - Chuck Koenig in 1979 and Jarrett Weiss in 1996);

• Over her career in high school, she won 32 medals from invites, Colonial League and District 11 Championships, plus PIAA State Championships. She accomplished this in three years due to missing her freshman year because of COVID.

Jim Thorpe's Celia Rodriguez-Gonzalez runs one of the legs of the 3200 relay at the PIAA State Track & Field championships. WILL SCHWARTZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS