A Run at History

  • By Daniel Whitehead
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  • November 20, 2011 09:34 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Graduating high school seniors sometimes feel the urge to expand their horizons and pursue their dreams and higher education somewhere far from home.

It wasn’t any different for West Virginia cross country and track athlete Kaylyn Christopher, a 2007 Preston High graduate who initially thought her educational and running aspirations should reach beyond the 45-minute drive from Kingwood, W.Va.

Little did she know at the time that at WVU, she’d have the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism, a master’s degree in secondary education and be a member of potentially four Top 10 NCAA cross country teams during her collegiate career.

“When I was looking at the different schools recruiting me, I originally did want to go kind of far away,” Christopher says. “As time went on, I started to realize how important it was to me to be closer to my family and stick around. The more acquainted I got with WVU, the more special I thought it would be to run for my home state’s school. We weren’t a family that came to WVU athletic events all the time, but I still thought it would be special.”

At Monday afternoon’s NCAA Championship in Terre Haute, Ind., Christopher will match former WVU great Megan Metcalfe as the only other Mountaineer to run in four NCAA Championships. Christopher ran her first one as a freshman in 2007 when the team placed ninth, Kaylyn arriving in 137th as the sixth WVU finisher. In 2008, she came in 110th place to help the team to a fourth-place national finish, and in 2009, she came in 87th place as the team finished in sixth place. She’s hoping for another top-10 team mark in 2011.

“That would be the perfect way to end my cross country career,” she says. “This is my fourth trip to the NCAAs, so I’ve been able to go every year and we’ve finished in the top 10 each time. To be a contributing member of four top 10 cross country teams would be something that I would take a lot of pride in and would be very special to me. I’m excited that we get to take another shot at it and compete against these teams.”

Now as a senior, Christopher believes her role on the team has changed a bit compared to prior seasons.

“I’ve noticed a few things are different from the other years,” she says. “As a freshman and sophomore, I didn’t know quite what to expect and was following the lead of the other girls. I was trying to fit in and find my place on the team and perform to the best of my ability. As I’ve gotten older, my role is still the same in that I have to perform my best in order for the team to do its best, but I’ve also realized the importance of team chemistry.

“The better a team gets along, the better it can support each other and it’s going to show in the results. As a senior, that’s been something I’ve been trying to focus on. I want to make sure everyone feels that they’re a part of the team and that they feel included. Even if there are only seven runners at nationals, it’s not just about the seven racing.”

Not only does she help the team off the course, but her statistics on the course have been equally impressive. Last weekend, she earned all-region honors with a 25th-place finish at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional. She came in 49th place at BIG EAST on Oct. 29, and also had solid placements at the Penn State National and Toledo Bubble Buster earlier in the year.

As the NCAA Championship is one of the most difficult cross country races around the world every year with more than 250 of the nation’s top long-distance runners, Christopher hopes her experience will help the team accomplish its goals at the race.

“It’s one of the most energetic cross country atmospheres you can think of,” she says. “Most races are pretty low-key, but at NCAAs there are fans all over the place. The beginning of the race is so intimidating. When you look back at pictures and see how many people you’re running against, it’s pretty crazy. As a freshman, it’s intimidating, but once you mature through the sport, you come to appreciate it and embrace it. There’s actually a lot of pushing and shoving that goes on. People don’t realize how much contact there can be in a cross country race. It can get pretty intense out there.”

An All-American in the mile and as a member of the distance medley relay squad, Christopher is a track athlete at heart but feels honored to be able to contribute to the sport of cross country as well.

“Since I began running in high school, I’ve always been a little bit stronger on the track,” she says. “I love the team atmosphere of cross country and it’s a unique experience to be able to combine my score with my teammates. In track, it’s very individualized. You go out and you do your race, and of course those points combine for a team score, but it’s a different camaraderie with cross country. I really enjoy it a lot. I try to take my strength in track and make the most of it in cross country, and for the most part I have had some solid performances.

“My freshman year of high school, I happened to try out for cross country to get in shape for track, but never thought I’d be a distance runner or be any good at it. At my first race, I was the top runner on my team. It took me by surprise and was kind of eye-opening. From that point on, there was a steady progression and I was moving up a little bit in distance each time.”

If all goes according to plan on Monday, West Virginia just may find itself on the podium once again as it accomplished in 2008, a feat Christopher will never forget when reminiscing her favorite running moments at WVU.

“It’s hard to forget when we took fourth place in 2008 and were on the podium at nationals,” she says. “My family was there and my high school coach, so it was really neat to be a part of that. I wouldn’t mind that happening again.”

Looking back, Christopher will always know she didn’t have to go very far at all to accomplish her academic and athletic goals in college.