The infectious smile on her face says everything you need to know about Chanel James — she is a woman with heart. Whether she’s pouring it out on the track, caring for others, or belting out country music, James has plenty of heart to go around.
It’s only natural the senior sprinter’s heart led her to run for WSU’s track and field team, where she hopes to continue her success after a fast start to the new season.
After battling a foot injury for the better part of six weeks in the off-season, the senior from Tacoma has bounced back, leading the Cougar women in the 200 meter dash in Saturday’s Cougar Indoor meet. James says she feels “stronger, faster, and more powerful,” than ever in her final season running track.
James admits her journey to success at WSU wasn’t an easy one.
“I didn’t have the grades at first,” James said. “I’ve had a tough road getting here. It’s been a long journey.”
But after a stint at Spokane Community College, she is now back where she feels she belongs at WSU — a place she grew up around.
“I literally have been a Coug my whole life,” she said.
In fact, James’ father, Michel James played for WSU’s football team and competed in track under the same coach Chanel runs under now, Head Coach Rick Sloan. Michel James even went on to play football professionally for the Houston Oilers and Miami Dolphins.
Chanel says her family has supported her in every step of her athletic career and her dad still tries to make every meet she runs in.
“My family is my all,” she said.
The choice to continue her family’s Cougar lineage was an easy one for James, who was touted as the top women’s sprinting recruit in the Northwest at the time.
“In picking a school, it felt more like picking a family,” James said. “The coaches treat you like family and don’t give up on you.”
The feeling is mutual between Chanel and her coaches. Cougar Assistant Coach Ellannee Richardson said she has noticed exponential improvement in James’ dedication and talent in her short time at WSU.
“I have watched Chanel mature into a very serious and dedicated athlete throughout these past few years,” Richardson said. “She's training very hard, she's really taking ownership in this athletic journey she's on.”
But athletics isn’t the only journey James is embarking on. Aside from track, James’ true passion is in music. James says she has always loved singing, especially country.
“It relaxes me and helps get my feelings out,” James said. “It makes me feel good and is something I definitely want to pursue.”
Singing is more than just a pipe dream for James, it’s something she’s putting her whole heart into. She’s won the singing contest, "Tacoma Idol," placed second in "Washington Idol," and auditioned for "American Idol" in 2009.
“Simon (Cowell) didn’t think I was a country singer, but Randy (Jackson) was digging it,” James said, even encouraging her to move to Nashville and develop more of a country twang.
After she finishes her degree in human development, James plans to take Randy’s advice and head to Nashville, Tenn. in order to pursue a career in singing country music. “I’m not going to stop until I’ve tried all my options.”
If singing and track don’t work out for her, James would like to utilize that big heart in helping others, especially kids.
“I want to help kids and help get them out of bad situations,” she said. “I just hate to see people hurt.”