I like to joke that I learned how to skate before I learned how to run.
Most toddlers stand-up, walk, then run, but in my family skates are laced onto your feet as soon as you’re standing. Learning to skate is the rite of passage; first you learn to skate forwards, then backwards, and soon enough you’re throwing on hockey gear and heading off to games and practices.
I loved hockey.
I loved waking up at 4:30 a.m. and drinking hot chocolate with my teammates to warm our fingers so we could tie our skates. I loved the roadtrips we would take to our away games, and I loved staying in hotels with my team during tournaments.
I had a lot of fun with the sport, and I do not regret playing it for so long.
Hockey was always tough for me because it felt like I was living in my twin brother’s shadow. My brother is my best friend, and I will always be his biggest fan in any arena. We are extremely similar in lots of ways, we take the same classes, have identical GPAs, are the types of kids that stay out of trouble and have a good group of friends.
In our high school we both won “Best Athlete” and we both received the same league sportsmanship award. There’s not too much that differentiates us, but he was always much better than me at hockey. His games were what we talked about at dinner and the games people would go to see.
Around high school hockey started to become more of a chore than a passion. I was fortunate to have been able to play for my high school team as an eighth grader and there were weeks when I had practice 11 times between my school team and club.
And yet, I slowly began to get very stressed before every game and practice, more than I ever have felt before any race. I was worried about making a mistake, letting my team down, letting my coach and parents down. It got to the point where I would ask loved ones not to come watch me play. At the same time, my brother was having lots of success. He made varsity as a freshman and was scoring tons of points.
And I was jealous, not for his fame, but of the fact that he was so relaxed and happy and yet playing fantastic.
I started outdoor track as a sprinter, trying to stay in shape for hockey. In hindsight this decision does not make much sense, considering I was playing spring hockey too. My sophomore spring, I returned as a sprinter. In the two weeks between hockey and track that year, I ran two miles all out on the treadmill every day — I DO NOT RECOMMEND.
So when the sprinters were forced to do an 800 meter rep in practice one day, I ran much better than anyone was expecting me to. I was thrown into another in a meet and qualified for the state championship meet, making my switch to distance inevitable. And I was beyond excited to be joining that side of the team. I quickly became close with the older girls and guys, and felt part of a community of people like me.
These kids cared about training and schoolwork, but they also liked having fun together.
It was hard for me when the season ended. The kids who I had just become close with were starting up their summer training for cross country, and I was back to playing summer hockey tournaments and getting ready for field hockey tryouts. I had fallen in love with distance running, and all I wanted to do was run out of my gear and hit the trails.
I felt lost, I did not fit in with my field and ice hockey teammates — you do running for FUN?!?!? — and I did not fit in with my distance teammates because I was only with them for three months when they were together year round.
As silly as this sounds, I hoped that we would have practices cancelled because of snow so that I could go for a run. I would speed home after practices to livestream meets, pretending I was cheering alongside my teammates in the Reggie Lewis Center instead of on my bed alone.
And when spring track came around, I was so grateful and happy with every step I took. I pride myself on being an optimist — smiley Kylie — and I have learned that my mindset is the key to any successes I’ve had as a runner.
I ran well that season, training along a great group of guys. And when that season came to an end, not an ounce of my body wanted to go back to the lost feeling I had the year prior. I begged my parents to let me start cross country as a senior. Eventually they let up, provided that I talked to my field hockey coach and team and they were okay with it, and as long as I continued to play ice hockey.
My field hockey coach was amazing and she gave me her blessing, and I will forever be grateful for that.
That summer was incredible. There was not a morning that I did not feel like waking up and running. Because I was just so happy and having so much fun with training, I got in great shape. And when I ran a second off my mile PR on the first day of practice in sneakers, my coach and I knew that we had a good season in store.
I broke course and meet records, beat boys in a home meet, broke 18 for the 5K winning a huge Twilight Invitational, and led my team to qualifying for all-states together.
I was having the time of my life, but the thought kept running around my head that soon I would be pulled away from my team and back to the hockey rink. Back to being in my brother’s shadow. Back to feeling lost.
I began voicing my concerns to my coach and he helped me put everything into perspective. I had asked if there were ways for me to continue competing while playing hockey. And he said while possible, it would not be fair to my hockey team if I was exhausting myself with running training while they were depending on me in games.
He told me that by the way it talked, it really seemed like my heart had decided I would be happiest staying with the team for indoor.
I explained that I knew that was the case, but that could just not happen. My family lived and breathed hockey, and did not understand my love for running. My coach then told me that if you knew deep down what path was best for you, you should take a risk and pursue it, and your loved ones will understand eventually.
And with that, I sent thank you emails to my hockey coach and put my hockey bag in the basement.
I was choosing to run down a new path.
It was hard on my family, specifically my Dad. And I felt bad for letting him down by not playing hockey. Many loved ones tried to tell me that I was making the wrong decision. Teachers were in disbelief that “Kylie Oblak was stopping hockey.” My brothers teammates’ parents were confused about how I was able to come to their games when the girls team had one at the same time. But deep down I knew I chose the right path.
I believed in myself, and so did my coach and team.
I viewed it as my duty to my hockey team to train and recover as hard as I could as a way to repay my team for leaving them. I still had my optimistic mindset, and was able to spend hours of cross training through feet pain to get in great fitness for race day.
And all my work behind the scenes paid off when I entered a college meet unattached and broke 18 for the 5k again, setting a school record and qualifying for nationals. It was as if the previous month of being criticized disappeared. Teachers, parents, and old teammates began congratulating me.
My Dad started coming to my meets. People accepted that I was not my brother’s hockey shadow, but instead I was my own girl, a runner at that.
I no longer felt lost, I knew who I was.
I was a positive girl who loved her team and loved her friends, who was a nerd with a good sense of humor, who liked cooking and posting on her account @fuelingmilesofsmiles, who made a YouTube channel, who hated driving but would drive hours to cheer at her brother’s games, and more importantly than anything: a girl who loved running and the running community.
Thank you to all my coaches and teammates for making me into the athlete I am today. Thank you running for helping me to find myself, I am forever grateful for the people and lessons you have brought into my life.
KYLIE OBLAK — FUELING MILES OF SMILES