Oct. 4, 2012
Back in the fall of her sophomore season, Kayla Evans came off the finish line of her first NCAA Cross Country Championships, thrilled to have contributed to a third-place team finish. The local product out of Bellarmine Prep, Evans was the 4A state cross country runner-up and her freshman year she redshirted in 2008 while the Huskies won the program's first national title. Evans worked her way into a key contributing role, but then was beset by a number of injuries. Her last postseason race came at the 2010 Pac-12 cross country race, and she was out of action entirely in 2011. Faced with a running crossroads, Evans says she was not ready to let it go, and a turning point came happily at last year's NCAA race, as she ran around as a spectator to cheer on her team, and realized she felt no more pain. Eleven months later, Evans has made it back into the lineup, limiting her mileage and thriving by not pushing herself as hard. At the Greater Louisville Classic last Saturday, Evans finished 23rd overall and fourth on the team as UW took second in the large field. She talked to GoHuskies.com about staying the course and her excitement to teach middle school science.
GoHuskies: Back on the travel squad this fall, is it tough to handle the missed classes?
Kayla Evans: I have actually had some really great professors; some of them are super interested to know what is going on, too. It is kind of fun, because they will ask you in class, "Oh how did you guys do?" Sometimes they will give you a shout out or add if they mention athletics at all, it is really neat. Most people understand that athletes don't just get special privileges they have to work really hard, too. It is like having a job outside of school, they are super understanding.
GH: How close are you to finishing your Bachelor's degree?
KE: I am very close. My plan is to graduate after winter quarter, but I still have a lot of things to finish up, both with undergraduate research and finishing things up for the honors program. I will then graduate with my biology degree and a minor in education and university honors too, which will be pretty cool!
GH: Is that leading you towards being a science teacher?
KE: Yeah, that is exactly what I want to do! Every time I tell people about it too they are amazed, when I admit that I want to teach middle school science, because that is the job that people probably least want to do: teach middle school students and teach them science. But at least for me there is a big hole there, and you need to get through to them and make them fall in love with science, but they are just built to rebel and push back. It will be exciting and a journey, but I plan on starting grad school for my Masters and potentially teaching next fall of the following spring either at UW Bothell or here at UW Seattle.
GH: Do you have a full track season ahead of you, too?
KE: Yeah, I am planning on competing all through this year, I have everything left: cross country, indoor, and outdoor, and then I will be done after that.
GH: So would you be done with classes for track season?
KE: Possibly, I might be doing some follow-up work on my research. There is the potential to have several papers come out of it and then some symposiums or maybe even a national conference, we will have to see where that goes, but in terms of actual credits and school classes I won't have any, but I might take the opportunity to volunteer a bunch in middle school classes. I did that last year, volunteered at two different schools in the spring and I loved it, it was so much fun. It's good experience, too.
GH: At practice, you've got some of the freshmen sitting around here talking about eating in the dorms and their classes have just started, does it seem like the time has flown by now?
KE: Yeah, it really does! It was such a long time ago, now I am a fifth year and really almost everyone I started school with is gone. There are four of us total that are still left in our class and it is insane to think that not that long ago I was the freshman coming in and really unsure what was going on, trying to fit in and find your place. It is a big change and a little scary moving on with the rest of life, but I am excited for it. But I knew that I had to come back for a fifth year, that I wasn't ready to leave yet.
GH: Obviously it's been a long road for you through injuries, can you retrace what it took to come back?
KE: I am an incredibly injury prone person. So far I have racked up seven stress fractures, I think, that is including high school. I actually came into the UW with a stress fracture my freshman year and missed out on cross country. But the biggest hurdle was in the past couple years I was in great shape my junior year and then started having back problems which led to a stress fracture in my tibia and just as I was coming back that spring, thinking everything was good to go and moving in the right direction and only running 40 miles per week, which is not a lot, I found out that I had a stress fracture in my pelvic bone and that was almost catastrophic, that took me out for almost seven months with no running at all. We were very optimistic in that summer that maybe I could start running, I tried every few weeks with 60% of my body weight on the Alter-G and still it was painful.
I think it makes the comeback all the more sweet. I'm not doing it just for myself, I am coming back onto a team where we really do want to achieve that big dream together.
Eventually at nationals last year I had flown out to watch the team race and I got to run around the course, I didn't think too much about it, and in the course of doing that I realized that it didn't hurt anymore. When I came back I started moving in the right direction and finally got to move off the Alter-G and hit the ground and it was still super slow going. We bumped up the mileage little by little, in tiny increments. By the end of last track season I was able to race twice, which at the time was a huge deal. They were PRs both in the 3ks. I didn't do a whole lot of racing prior to that, in my college career (laughs), but besides that it has been a whole summer of training and constantly trying to slow myself down, with trial and error we figured out that I am not a 70 mile a week girl like I thought, not every run has to be a race and I don't have to run myself into the ground, even though I really enjoy it.
GH: So this formula has been working for a while now?
KE: This time around we decided that in the spring that I would not go over 40 miles a week. And this summer I gradually moved up from 40 to 45 to 50 and now I am holding at 50-55 miles a week. They really have the leash on me in terms of slowing me down in runs and workouts, and thankfully I get to go out and race and take the brakes off and not worry about it. But I have just been super cautious and it is starting to pay off which makes me really happy that I get a chance to come back and show what I am made of. It has been a long time coming; I am just really excited to see what happens, because all of this has been one big experiment, never knowing what I would be capable of off of limited training, but it seems like I am really prospering and growing off of it.
GH: There had to be moments where you weren't sure you'd make it back.
KE: I guess it was a year and a half ago when I first found out that I had my pelvic stress fracture. That was very difficult to handle. It was an unknown at that point in terms of how long it would take to get back. And since I had taken so much time off we didn't know how long it would take to get up to speed and to be competitive. For a long while I had to figure out if this is what I really wanted to do, if it was worth it to stay in it, and I definitely was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life in terms of graduation and coming back for a fifth year and for grad school ... and luckily with the honors program I was able to figure things out where I would have a buffer leaving all of my honors requirements until the end and doing all of the regular university requirements first. If I wasn't going to get better I could leave off and not complete honors, but I just kind of hit a point where I realized that I really wasn't ready to leave.
There was no point in being negative and pouting and crying about the injury anymore, especially because it was a bone. A bone is a bone, it is going to heal on its own time, and there is nothing you can do about it. That was really it, and I just came to the conclusion that the negativity wasn't going to help in any way, and if I was positive about it and was supportive of my teammates and tried to have a smile on my face at all times, that was going to do more good than anything. That was kind of my role on the team last year; just to be a positive presence and to be a positive person and I really believe that that matters, especially because I have been there. And especially this year we have lofty goals for ourselves, and everyone has to be in it, even for those that are injured, they still matter and a very big part of the team and we all rely on them still for their attitude and their positive presence. So I don't know, I couldn't leave and I couldn't give up, I came back and gave it another shot and things have worked out pretty well.
GH: It also must be exciting to come back and jump onto a team that is looked at as a national title contender.
KE: It really is, I think it makes the comeback all the more sweet. I'm not doing it just for myself, I am coming back onto a team where we really do want to achieve that big dream and we want to achieve that together. When you get on the starting line you don't just want to do the best of your ability for yourself you want to do it for everyone else and I just love it. It is so cool when you can cross the line right next to your teammates and know that you guys are making a huge impact. I'm sure that on any other team that we could be number ones or twos, but I would much rather be somewhere else on this team, it doesn't matter what number you finish. I have always wanted to be part of something bigger and part of one of the best teams in the nation than be one of the best on a team that's not as strong.
GH: You Ran at NCAAs back in 2009, how different is your perspective from then to now?
KE: Well if I look back to myself at running at NCAAs as a sophomore, I was definitely more timid and not exceptionally confident. I had an excellent race at regionals, but I think that almost happened on accident as I recall getting to 5500 meters and not knowing that the finish line was about to come up on me, I think that someone yelled at me that I was about to finish and that is when I realized when I should probably kick. I didn't really have the experience that lends itself to championship racing. At nationals I think I convinced myself that I would be okay, but when it came down to it I felt like a pretty scared little girl standing on that starting line, and got swallowed up in the crowd. But now, especially after having an injury, I feel like it has made me a stronger athlete. I am much more confident in what I can do, because I realize that all I can do is the best I can do and I can't ask anything more than that. Now when I get to a race, I just think that all I have to do is the exact same thing I have done every day in practice and workouts, I almost don't feel the fear anymore, there is still nervous butterflies when you come to the line, but I am not afraid of what is going to happen, not afraid of the competition or my own potential, and it is much easier to be confident and just let myself do what I am capable of. I think that bodes really well for nationals coming up in November, especially running on the course this past weekend, something about it is now less intimidating, having run on it and having a fairly successful race on it.
I'm all about the investigation and following your passion, and going down a path to see where it leads.
GH: How did the race play out in Louisville last Saturday?
KE: It was an interesting simulation for nationals, because the race was really large, there were about 260 girls and in that respect we got the experience of having a very large starting line and narrowing really quickly to a large pack where everyone is right up next to each other with elbows in everyone's faces. Our plan from the beginning was to get out to the front together, we thought that our entire team could be in the top 50 no problem within the first mile and be very comfortable there. That was our strategy; Libby, Justine, and I were very close together and stayed close together all the way through about two miles and I definitely felt some sluggishness along with some of the other girls, and that is not by accident, we have been doing a lot of hard training, and I fell off a bit and toward the finish had a decent kick and we all crossed the line within a second of each other. It was almost a 15 second PR for me which was a huge deal and I feel like I can run faster than that and smarter than that, and do what I can to move the team forward. I am excited, I think we have a good group of girls who can race very close together.
GH: Early on you mentioned that your dream is to make students fall in love with science. Was there a moment you remember that happening for you?
KE: I had a fantastic fifth grade science teacher, his name was Mr. Blomgren, and one of the coolest things he let us do was try to start fires in the classroom. It was a study in friction, and something about rubbing two sticks together and seeing sparks IN your classroom just kind of set off this love in me for science, investigations, and hands-on stuff! That's the kind of teacher I want to be. I want to have hands-on manipulations for students so that they can really see the science happening and get a feel for it, rather than just learning something in a textbook. Middle school is such an important age where students are starting to find out who they are and what they like, and they'll go off and chase that. I really think that science has the ability to captivate more students than it does already. It doesn't have to be just the "nerdy" kids that are buried in a textbook. Science is for everybody and it's SO cool! (laughts) I get so excited talking about it, I cannot wait. I'm all about the investigation and following your passion, and going down a path to see where it leads.