Fravell striding with newest family


Susanna Fravell has more than one family. She might not remember the specifics, but as a baby she was left on the doorsteps of an orphanage in China. Then, after a year or so of paperwork, Chuck and Carol Fravell flew to China to take 9 1⁄2-month old Susanna home with them to Celestine.

Photo by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
In her junior season, Susanna Fravell has become the top hurdler for the Northeast Dubois track team despite a diminutive stature. It’s not the first major move Fravell has made. She made a new home in Celestine as a baby as Chuck and Carol Fravell adopted Susanna after she was left on the doorstep of an orphanage in China.

There’s also been her adoption family — the group of Chinese orphans who were adopted into the southern Indiana and northern Kentucky areas at the same time as Fravell. Each year on March 11, the day the group made the trip to America, that family has a reunion in Evansville to celebrate what they term their “Gotcha Day.” The entire group consists of 13 families, with seven who still consistently show up each year.

“Since we’re all adopted and everything, we’ll talk about our school experiences and the difficulties of being Asian sometimes and how we get picked on,” Fravell said. “It’s not like we talk about that all the time, but it’s nice to talk about that with people who have been through the same stuff and can understand it.”

Outside of a few experiences when she was younger, Fravell hasn’t had to deal with many of those difficult instances. Since she doesn’t remember life before moving to Celestine, these meet-ups serve as her lone connection to her original home in China. She occasionally goes out for Chinese food with her adoption group, but that’s about the extent of her connection to Chinese culture.

Instead, the junior has found a new family as a junior on coach Tammy Schulthies’ track team at Northeast Dubois.

“We always joke around about Mrs. Schulthies, our coach, being our mom and her husband being our dad,” Fravell said. “It really is like a big family. We always cheer each other on if we see someone struggling or if we’re just walking around we make sure to congratulate each other and pump each other up for our next events.”

Fravell has developed into the top hurdler for the Jeeps this season, despite any perceived physical limitations. She’s always wanted to run hurdles since joining the track team in middle school, but her height served as a potential problem. She stood 4-foot-8 that first middle school season, shorter than the other girls wanting to compete in the event. Her height not only made clearing the hurdles more difficult, but keeping her speed in between jumps a challenge.

Well, that’s what some thought, at least.

“I don’t think fear ever crossed my mind, and my height issues didn’t cross my mind,” Fravell said. “I said I wanted to do it and my middle school coach told me I was too short, but she let me do it anyway because we didn’t have that many hurdlers.”

Her desired race didn’t change in high school either, even after Schulthies reiterated the potential problems with competing in hurdles with Fravell’s shorter legs. She raced with them anyway, and this year even added the high jump to her repertoire.

Most hurdlers only take three or four steps between each jump. With training, Fravell has gotten to the point where she can consistently take four steps between hurdles, sometimes three.

“I said, “You may not be able to three-step or four-step because your leg length isn’t as long as the other hurdlers,’” Schulthies said. “She came out on weekends since the track is open, set up hurdles and hurdled and hurdled and hurdled.

“She’s one of those kids where if you tell her, “You’re probably a little too short to do that,’ she’s probably going to do that,” Schulthies added. “I told her I didn’t know if she could high jump or if you can hurdle, and she can do both. She’s got a really good determination for that.”

That doesn’t exist only in track season. After she finished soccer season this fall, Fravell approached Schulthies with a question: When can I start training for track?

“I told her I stayed two days a week if she wanted to work out, so we spent a lot of time in the weight room and she actually for Christmas got weightlifting gloves,” Schulthies said.

Fravell tells the story a little differently. Her inspiration for starting training for this year’s track season early originated from her lack of commitment last year. After her sophomore soccer season, she said she was taking a month off from athletics that turned into three months, and meant that when track season started she was out of shape. This year’s offseason training, combined with coaching, are what helped Fravell emerge this season, she said.

Her strides on the track have evolved in step with the emergence of something else — her personality. Fravell’s a prankster who likes to have fun — earlier this season she sneaked around during a team meeting to tie the coaching staff’s shoes together — but that’s not a trait she displayed to most until recently.

“I kind of warmed up to everyone, I guess,” Fravell said. ”I’ve always been really shy but I guess since I started going through my high school years I’m coming out of my shell and I’m not as shy anymore in general, but I’m just more comfortable around them.”

She’s even taken on a leadership role among the other hurdlers. After Schulthies’ son Lucas, a hurdler at Rose-Hulman, showed Fravell a drill or two, she now instructs the rest of the hurdling team on form.

“She’s excelling at something so I think that makes you feel better about yourself and you’re able to talk about it,” Schulthies said. “She’s leading the younger ones, she can teach those drills and it’s helped me a lot because I don’t have to worry about showing other people the drills in hurdles because she knows what they are.”

In Northeast Dubois’ last meet Monday against Heritage Hills, Fravell won the 100 hurdles in 17.84 seconds, an already noticeable upgrade from her ninth-place place time of 19.22 at last year’s sectional. As far as whether there’s any more improvement left for Fravell, well, Schulthies has learned her lesson on that.

“She’s determined enough to do it,” Schulthies said. “I’m not going to tell her she can’t because she’s just going to prove me wrong.”

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