CHICAGO — Raena Rhone envisions track as a savior to countless Chicago kids.
The former Whitney Young two-time state champion in the 400 meters and 14-time all-Big 12 runner at Baylor said running always kept her on track. She has plans to start a track club in the city to help Chicago's youngsters find a similar path to success.
"When young people are involved in something bigger than themselves, they realize there is something more than the here and now," Rhone said. "Violence is coming from that because they don't see beyond today and they make poor decisions because of that. ... And there's so much track talent in Chicago, that something needs to be done."
Rhone recently graduated from Baylor and is in her first of a four-year pharmacy program at University of North Carolina — ranked No. 1 in the country by U.S. News and World Report. But she's already plotting a return to Chicago to impart her knowledge on the track to the next generation of runners.
Rhone has been on the track since she was a second-grader at Frances Xavier Warde School and was asked to run a 200-meter run against sixth-graders. She won.
She was a dominant high school competitor at Whitney Young, helping the school claim three straight Chicago Public League titles while being named the city's athlete of the year in 2011.
"When you saw Raena on the track, you knew she was going to be something special," Whitney Young Principal Joyce Kenner said. "As a former track coach who had a state championship runner-up girls track team out of Dayton, Ohio in 1982, you could always tell that special athlete. Raena was that one."
Rhone excelled even though the school — like most Chicago Public Schools — did not having a track. Rhone and her teammates ran around 200-meter square-shaped hallways on the school's second and third floors, making 90-degree turns in between classrooms and lockers. Many times, Rhone said, she ran into teammates or the lockers.
"We would definitely have to slow down at turns," she said. "The lack of training facilities made training much more difficult for me, and made me have to work much harder."
Once a week, Whitney Young trained at the outdoor track at Jackson Park. Rhone also on her own time went to Henry Crown Field House in Hyde Park to get in extra workouts. Because the city still has no public indoor track — although plans are in the works to build one in Pullman — Rhone relied an association with the University of Chicago Track Club to use the Henry Crown track.
In addition, she worked with coach Ashley Homere, who's now at Chicago State University, in the summer.
"While most of her competitors were simply doing what their coaches asked, Raena was asking what else could she do," Homere said. "What I find even more noble is that her pursuit of success has never been about fame or ego-driven. It was simply about being the best that she could be."
Rhone's father, Ray, who starred in basketball at De La Salle and played professionally in Turkey, said he's never met anyone who works as hard or "strives for excellence" like his daughter.
Rhone is following in the footsteps of her mother, Denise, a Walgreens pharmacist and Chicago Vocational graduate. When Raena was a child, Denise said her favorite book was "The World Is Your Oyster," which noted that life presents many challenges, but with hard work and faith, goals will be accomplished and good things will happen.
"Through what I would call deliberate determination and focus, Raena has overachieved in every aspect of her life from the time she was a little girl through young adulthood," Denise Rhone said.
Rhone was a youth ambassador for the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid and was hoping to run in the Rio Games, but she officially retired a few weeks before the U.S. Trials due to a sciatic nerve injury. She's transferred her passion for the sport into absorbing knowledge at pharmacy school, while also serving as a volunteer sprint coach for the UNC track team.
"This is another way I can be competitive," she said. "I can work with a team — my classmates — and also be a leader."
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