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Elite runner, chemical engineer follows in her father's footsteps

September 20, 2018
<p>Track and cross country senior Kayla Kavulich competes in a meet. Photo courtesy: MSU Athletics&nbsp;</p>

Track and cross country senior Kayla Kavulich competes in a meet. Photo courtesy: MSU Athletics 

Kayla Kavulich is a fifth-year senior majoring in chemical engineering and a member of the Michigan State track and cross country teams. She’s also already secured a job in her field of study upon graduation.

“I have a job next year in chemical engineering, so that worked out in my favor,” Kayla said.

During her career at Salem High School in Canton Township, Michigan, Kayla was the captain of girls’ basketball, track and cross country teams. MSU was not the only school she considered. Kayla took official visits to the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin.

“Michigan State had the best girls, (I) loved the coaches, they’re incredible role models and friends … it was definitely them that influenced me to come here,” she said.

Ultimately, she chose to follow in the footsteps of her father, Mike, and become a Spartan.

Mike Kavulich ran track and field at MSU in the 1980s. He and his teammates hold the school record for the men’s 4-x-1600 meter outdoor relay, set in 1985. 

Despite having a record-holding father, Kayla said she didn’t start running until sixth grade. 

“(My father) held me back, I wanted to start in like third grade and he was like, ‘No you’ll get tired of it because running is pretty taxing on your body,’” Kayla said.

Kayla said her father initially didn’t want her to participate in the sport at all.

“He tried to push me into other sports because he knew how hard running could be in college,” she said. “But, I told him ‘I want to be good, so do you think I’m going to be good in soccer, or running? Tell me and that’s where I’m going.’”

Between her father’s love for running and her mother’s emotional support, she was well prepared to go far athletically. 

“She knows way more than I do,” Mike said. “So I just tell her to go out and do what Coach Drenth says and things will work out, trust your teammates and I think today, especially the last couple miles she ran with three or four teammates. I know that’s a big reassurance to all of them and I know Coach Drenth really pushes that on the guys and the girls. I think that’s why we’re so successful.”

Things have not always been easy for Kayla throughout her collegiate career. She said she spent about two years dealing with a mysterious injury doctors couldn’t diagnose. Fortunately, her health has improved.

“This year I finally figured out what my body could do and I’m really excited to just keep pushing. If I could run for the rest of my life I would,” Kayla said.

She is in her fifth season at MSU, because she decided to redshirt her freshman year.

“I am a redshirt (because) my freshman year they had the national championship team. So, it was a very competitive field to try to be the top 7,” Kayla said. “It was more beneficial for me to take a year and learn how I did in college with the training. And then coming in my second year with a better sense of what I was dealing with and traveling, because traveling on the weekends has a different impact on your life.”

Balancing travel, practices and classes while maintaining a social life was an adjustment. 

“I had to find the social aspect in practice, because obviously I don’t have that much extra time,” she said. “It’s finding social fun in your runs … I have a great group of friends in my major, we hang out and do our work, and its work, but it feels like fun. So, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I had to put my heart into it and if that means sacrificing a few crazy Friday nights … then I’m going to do that.”

All the sacrifices she has made have paid off. She has multiple first place finishes, including as a member of the 4-x-1500 meter relay team and 4-x-800 meter relay team at the Raleigh Relays in March.

“For anyone that’s passionate about something, never settle,” Kayla said. “Obstacles come and go, but if you have that drive you’ll find something to be amazing at no matter what it is.”

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