They Run... and run, and run and run

Like their parents, the Wille sisters of Grafton live for running. They’re really good at it. And really fast.
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Whether it’s mom and dad, any of their three daughters or their dog, the Wille family in Grafton is on the run.

Celia Wille has been the cross country coach at St. Paul Lutheran School in Grafton for nine years, and her husband Jeremiah has coached with her for the past eight.

Both parents ran in high school — Cecila in New York and Jeremiah at New Berlin Eisenhower — and got their girls into running at an early age, doing Port Washington’s famous Fish Day run as a family with their youngest, Claire, in a stroller.

The girls have taken to cross country and track, so much so that Grafton High School senior Julia holds the school record in the 5,000 meters at 20 minutes, 3 seconds.

“Not for long,” her freshman sister Maddy said.

At this year’s division 2 state cross country meet, Julia was 29th in 20:35 with Maddy not far behind in 34th in 20:44.

That state race came the week after Julia won the sectional race at Mayville by four seconds, her first victory in high school.

“It was surreal,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. I just won a meet. This is my dream ever since I started high school.”

She laughingly greeted Maddy after she crossed the finish line in fifth, but the younger sister was too exhausted to appreciate the moment.

That was OK. The joy lasted a while.

“I don’t think you stopped smiling for a day and a half,” Jeremiah said.

Julia and Maddy have led the team for much of the season, but Claire may run past them both.

The fifth-grader recently took first of runners in sixth grade and younger at a national meet of Lutheran schools and was 11th of all runners in fifth through eighth grade.

Ceclia calls Claire her “fierce little warrior.”

Claire wins most of her races and said being in the lead all the time has its ups and downs.

“I like it because I know I’m ahead but I get lonely sometimes,” she said.

One time, she lost a shoe in mud and still won “by a lot.”

Julia doesn’t mind running alone.

“I like the crowd but sometimes it’s nice being by yourself and not having people yelling at me,” she said.

Julia and Maddy run with each other for about the first mile before Julia begins to pull away. They have been the Black Hawks’ top two runners for most of the season.

For Julia, “I like the feeling of running when you’re done. You feel like you’ve accomplished something.”

Maddy said “the team is a lot of fun, but I like competing.”

As much as they compete with each other, they support one another, as do all of the members of the boys and girls’ teams.

Sometimes both teams come to cheer on Claire at her meets. They did a big group hug right after one race, although Claire said she felt like she was going to throw up.

Jeremiah and Celia are among their daughters’ loudest cheerleaders. Julia and Maddy’s teammates even ask if their parents are coming to meets.

Celia can often be found at remote locations along race routes reminding her daughters, the rest of the Black Hawks and anyone else in earshot to “use their arms.”

Julia said she does math in her head while running and likes to run in mud.

“You just don’t think about it. You go right through it,” she said.

Like many athletes, the Wille sisters have their rituals before meets. Jeremiah makes them smoothies on race mornings, and he makes Claire a cheesy omelet.

“I can’t put my shoes on before I have my hair up,” Maddy said.

Julia has half of a granola bar before every race, and it has to be either chewy chocolate chip. Sometimes peanut butter.

Julia said getting a good night’s sleep is important, but not the night before the race. It’s the night two days before that matters.

Her mother agrees.

“If you’re an all-in runner, you never sleep well the night before a race,” Celia said.

For Julia, running is more than just a sport, however. As a cross country team captain, she has led warm-ups and cool downs, and gives pep talks to her teammates, who have become more than that.

“We’re best friends, the whole team,” she said. “I cried at the banquet.”

In the offseason, Julia and Maddy will run five times per week, which Jeremiah said is “pretty good for a fifth-grader.”

Jeremiah and Celia still run themselves. Celia has done four marathons and 42 half marathons, and Jeremiah has done two marathons and 30 halves. Sometimes, they bring along their 9-year-old springer spaniel Molly for practice. She peaked at 13 miles and knows the word “run.”

“For us, the love is coaching,” Celia said.

The pair have built St. Paul’s program from six runners into 20 to 30 and have had students run in college who never dreamed they could do the sport in high school. St. Paul has won the state title the past two seasons for the first time in its history.

They teach their runners “hills are your friends” and that unless a bone is sticking out that they can finish the race.

Ceilia did half marathons with Julia and Maddy after they finished eighth grade and is hoping to do one with Claire next year.

Now, Maddy is playing basketball at the high school and in a club, and Julia is in a track club in Milwaukee. Claire plays hoops for her father at St. Paul. All will run track in spring.

Next year, Julia hopes to run at either the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse or Elmhurst College and major in business or communications.

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