ROYAL OAK — Ellie Kendell’s first recollection of running was being pushed in a stroller.

She was a toddler, and that’s how she went along with her mom, dad, brother and sister on their runs through their Huntington Woods neighborhood.

“I liked it,” she says. “It was fun.”

A more formal introduction to the sport happened when she was maybe 10 or 11, a fourth grader at Royal Oak Shrine.

Then, three or four grades later, she participated in CYO cross country and track and discovered a new dimension: “I liked competing.”

As she heads into her senior year at Shrine, Ellie ranks among the few elite distance runners in the state and the Catholic League.

To reach that height, Ellie has benefited from watching, learning and running alongside top-notch, record-setting runners right in her own family.

Her mother, Michelle (nee Vogt), was an outstanding runner at Lumen Christi High in Jackson. At the University of Detroit Mercy, she was a member of the first-ever women’s cross country team in 1984. She’s in the Titans record book as the ninth-fastest runner in women’s 3,000-meter (10:18.9) set in 1988.

Her dad, Bill, moved on from Harper Woods Notre Dame Prep to Detroit Mercy at about the same time Michelle was there. He wasn’t a runner, but a four-year varsity fencer. They married in 1990, his entry into the Kendell running clan.

The achievements of Ellie’s brother, Ben, are dizzying. 

He spent three years at Shrine High School (All State and All Catholic) before moving to Italy to attend the International School of Turin. He placed sixth at the Italian national cross country championship.

At Detroit Mercy, Ben is heralded as one of the most accomplished student-athletes in school history. The 23-year-old, who graduated with an engineering degree this spring, holds Titans cross country records in the 4-mile (19:39), 8,000-meter (23:54) and 10,000 (30:35), and track records in the 3,000 (8:17.21), 5,000 (14:07.43), and 10,000 (29:00.15).

Ben also hold numerous athletic and academic records in the Horizon League, capped off by his selection as recipient of the 2019 Cecil N. Coleman Medal of Honor presented annually to the league’s top male student-athlete.

There’s more on his personal horizon. He has begun a professional career by signing with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project team. He is training for the Olympic marathon trials this fall and the 10,000-meter next February.

Ellie’s sister, Claire, attended the same international school in Turin for the first two years of high school, finishing up at Berkley High, where she was All-County, team captain, and winner of varsity letters in cross country and track.

Claire, 20, went to Detroit Mercy just for two years, long enough to be inscribed in the Titans record books as third all-time in the 5,000-meter (17:33.39) and second all-time best in the 10,000 (36:45.80).

She has transferred to Michigan State, where she’ll resume running while pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.

So, we’re back where we started: Ellie’s story.

In her diminutive 5-foot-4, 108-pound frame, Ellie carries a ton of grit. There’s an aura of quiet confidence about her as she goes about her business of creating an incredible prep career.

Her strategy is simple: “I like to start out fast.” As you would expect, she wins most of her races during the regular season without serious challenge.
If there’s pressure to perform, it’s self-imposed. She recalls the Mark Carpenter Invitational in May. She had lost the 1,600 run by about 40 seconds.

“I felt discouraged that I wasn’t able to keep my pace,” she says. She rebounded a half-hour later to take the 3,200. “That was a good moment.”

She relishes the moments of the high-profile, season-ending tournaments and the anticipation of going up against other top-level foes.

In the Catholic League, she’s won Division C-D cross country and track races the last two years by wide margins. Just like her siblings, she’s put herself in the record book with fastest times in the 1,600 and 3,200.

On the state level, Ellie won both long-distance runs in MHSAA Division 4 track this spring, fighting off her nearest rivals to win the 1,600 by seven seconds (5:11.93) and the 3,200 by 16 seconds (11:21.58).

She easily won the cross country regional last fall and took third in the state final. “That’s one of my goals this year, to move up,” she says.

Her mother, Michelle, says Ellie is “modest about her success. She’s achieved it through determination and hard work.”

She hasn’t settled on a choice of college yet, but wherever it might be, she wants to keep running — and “someday go professional (ala brother Ben?). That would be cool.”

Ellie has spent her summer running about 40 miles a week, working as a lifeguard at the city pool, hanging around with friends and watching movies, especially comedies.

So, what does she like best about running? “I like winning the best,” she says.

There’s nothing funny about that picture.

Contact Don Horkey at