It all began when I started running in 7th grade as a way to keep in shape for soccer.
I had recently quit competitive gymnastics, and was determined to fill the void that twenty hours worth of gymnastics left. When not at soccer practice, I found joy in mindlessly running laps around the track.
I quickly scoped out the nearest track team, the Aurora Flyers, and joined.
Chasing kids that were older, faster and stronger brought a smile to my face — I truly loved the challenge. At the time, track provided me an outlet to let my mind run free with little to no expectations, a refreshing change from the elite soccer and gymnastics worlds.
The more I ran, the more I fell in love with the sport.
Athletic skills aside, during this time and most of my childhood I was extremely shy. I didn’t talk much around those I didn’t know, and ultimately I was not super confident in myself or my abilities. On the soccer field, my introverted ways negatively affected me. Most of my teammates were extremely vocal, and in team sports communication is essential.
So while I could hang on physically and had the talent, I really struggled socially.
This problem wasn’t only in sports, either. I remember throughout elementary school and middle school, my teachers and family members would give me a surplus of praise when I “used my words” and stood up for myself.
Fast forward to freshman year of high school, and my love for soccer eventually fizzled out.
I had joined my high school’s cross country team, and I came into high school with the intention of balancing both soccer and running. And yet, throughout the summer and into the early fall I was intrigued by all of the opportunity running had to offer for me.
I fell in love with the fact that my success in running correlated directly with the effort that I put into it.
Finally, my reserved personality didn’t seem to matter as much. My individual performance, abilities, and work ethic all could now help me excel and I no longer had to worry about all of the social aspects, opinions and politics that hurt me in both soccer and gymnastics.
So, I quit soccer and decided to head full force into the running world.
One of my teammates that year, Lindsey Payne, was my training partner and mentor. Although we had similar abilities, we definitely differed in personality.
Lindsey was an outgoing, bubbly, extroverted girl that led our team like a champ. I vividly remember interviews with her after races. The interviewer would ask a basic question and she would respond enthusiastically with a smile, and elaborate in detail on our race.
Then, when it was my turn to speak I would sheepishly add “yeah, the race was awesome.”
That was my answer to just about every question that was asked.
In my first interview I actually used the word “awesome” 18 times. Looking back now, it all seems pretty funny — even to me. But, in all seriousness, this was a direct result of my lack of confidence in myself. I would get so nervous when having to speak to an adult or coach from another team that my mind would just freak out, most likely how most kids feel when giving a speech on presentation in school.
With time, as the running world for me shifted, my tendencies unknowingly shifted as well. I started seeing success on bigger stages, and in turn I was just expected to be more talkative and outspoken.
Confidence in my running ability grew every time I set a personal record, competed in big races, and even after the completion of a tough workout.
Though I always knew it subconsciously, I finally accepted the fact that I could attribute my performances to how hard I worked, and I was able to believe in myself and my physical abilities. With my quick physical development came my ability to speak up and find comfort in public speaking.
Incredible opportunities allowed me to find my own voice in running.
I was lucky enough to run for the U.S. in Edinburgh, Scotland my sophomore and junior Years, and I learned that when in a foreign country, being quiet just is not an option. The culture is solely based on social interaction.
And until then, I did not realize the joy that I was missing out on back home.
When in Europe I found myself chatting with pro runners like Des Linden and Molly Seidel, something that I probably would have been too scared to do a few years ago in my little bubble in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Not only that, but I met coaches that had coached at the highest level and bonded with other athletes from all over the world.
It was beyond crazy to hear about their lives and how running was different in their respective countries. But it was even crazier how much I benefited from stepping out of my comfort zone.
Words cannot express how much I learned from these experiences, and I will truly value them for the rest of my running career and life.
Other events like Nike Elite Camp, Nike Cross Nationals and Foot Locker Nationals also contributed to my growth as a person and runner for the same reasons. Traveling to new states all alone, meeting runners from around the country and participating in countless interviews at these events, they’ve done wonders for me.
They have truly taken me from being a quiet, soft-spoken kid to a more mature, confident and outspoken person, as both a student and athlete.
Recently I was asked to do a cooking video for Dyestat. Nutrition is something that excites me, and I wish to pursue it at University of Michigan. Although this video doesn’t pertain necessarily to my running or social abilities, I was able to do it because of the voice and confidence that I have finally developed through running.
Of course I am only 18 years old and I am still continuing to grow, but I do believe running has been the key factor in shaping me into the person I am. I will forever be grateful for all this sport has allowed me to accomplish and become.
My hope is that others can find their calling too.
Whether it is running, another sport, activity or hobby, I hope they are able to grow at the lengths that I have and achieve whatever it is that they truly love.
KATELYNNE HART — GLENBARD WEST HIGH SCHOOL
800 Meter Run: 2:10.63
One Mile Run: 4:39.57
Two Mile Run: 9:56.13
5000 Meter Run (Track): 16:09.56
Foot Locker Nationals 2017: 2nd Place
Nike Cross Nationals 2017: 4th Place
Foot Locker Nationals 2018: 2nd Place
Nike Cross Nationals 2018: 16th Place
Foot Locker Nationals 2019: 4th Place
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