Kayla Montgomery finishes her first college cross country season at Lipscomb University.
December 10, 2014
Kayla Montgomery, the North Carolina teen who suffers from multiple sclerosis and gained a national following last year as she developed into a top high school runner, has completed her first season of collegiate cross country.
Montgomery, 19, was diagnosed with MS as a high school freshman. Although medication helps control many of her symptoms, she still experiences numbness in her legs after intense exertion. She loses all feeling in her legs toward the end of races, and she needs a coach, stationed just beyond the finish line, to catch her after every competition.
As a senior at Mount Tabor High School, Montgomery won the North Carolina Class 4A state cross country championship and completed the 2013 Foot Locker South regional 5K in 17:22, failing to advance to the national finals by a single place. She continued to excel on the track, with a 17:16.82 eighth-place 5,000m finish at New Balance Indoor Nationals and an outdoor state victory at 3200m.
Ranking among the nation’s top college prospects, Montgomery began attracting interest from leading programs as a junior. Yet most Division I coaches shied away upon learned of the MS. One of the few to look beyond Montgomery’s health challenges was Bill Taylor of Lipscomb University in Nashville.
“Before Kayla’s official visit, I talked with my athletic training department and team doctors, to try to understand what we’d be looking at,” Taylor said. “And what I learned is that symptoms are different in each person and they change, so there really wasn’t a clear sense of how things might go once she got here. But we felt very comfortable with her character and personality and fit with our program and school. And later I also talked with her high school coach [Patrick Cromwell] to learn what we could do to prepare and if she’d need any modifications to workouts.”
When Montgomery arrived in Nashville last August she quickly bonded with team members, who recognized the diminutive freshman’s special qualities that aid her struggle with MS. “It’s just really inspiring to know that she’s not guaranteed anything,” teammate Avery Franklin said. “She could wake up one morning and not be able to run any more, so she really gives her all every single practice. She just makes the best out of everything and never gets upset, or at least doesn’t ever show it.”
Montgomery’s condition is exacerbated by heat, because the more quickly her body warms up, the sooner she begins to lose feeling in her legs. So Taylor held her out of Lipscomb’s first meet, held on a hot late-August afternoon. Instead, Montgomery began her collegiate career at the Commodore Classic, hosted by Vanderbilt, where she ran 17:34.8 to finish 18th in a field of 293. “I think it was Kayla’s best race of the season,” Taylor said. “It was an incredible debut.”
All through high school, Cromwell caught Montgomery after races. At the Vanderbilt meet, the job went to Lipscomb assistant coach Jenny Randolph. At the team dinner afterward, Montgomery and Randolph decided they needed more practice. “While we were eating, Jenny had Kayla run up to her and collapse to practice her catching technique,” Taylor said with a laugh. “They repeated this probably 10 times.”
Montgomery must also be caught at the conclusion of certain workouts, when her body’s rising temperature brings on the leg numbness. “Kayla usually can make it the first two or three intervals with the same recovery as the team,” Taylor said. “It’s rough, but she can do it. After that she often needs double the recovery. In those workouts, Jenny is always at the finish positioned to catch her.”
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