After high school, there will be no more track and field for Kayla Pyles.
The Bermudian Springs senior decided that when she locked in her college plan — two years at Greenville Technical College followed by up to four more years for an undergraduate degree and masters in architectural engineering at Clemson University.
Yet, Pyles has never worked harder for track, the sport in which many of its athletes compete in order to stay in shape during the offseason for their primary offering.
“I just love running, to be honest,” she said. “I’m such a sore loser, so doing as well as I did last year, I have to come out and do better than I already did. I hate when my standards don’t drop.”
So far, so good this year.
On Tuesday, Pyles took sole possession of her school’s record in the 100 hurdles, finishing in 15.5 seconds on the hand clock in a victory against York Tech. She’d already shared the record with Kathy Poist, who set the mark at 15.6 seconds in 1989. Earlier this spring, Pyles tied that mark in FAT (fully automatic time) format at Shippensburg University.
“I’ve been running for this record since I started high school,” she said, adding that assistant coach Jamie Lehr told her when she was in middle school that it was possible. “Ever since then, I’ve thought, ‘it must be mine.’”
Pyles is putting up top times, even while running on an injured achilles tendon that will take four months without activity to fully heal.
She first began to feel pain last spring. That didn’t stop her from finishing her junior season with a District 3 Class 2A gold medal in the 100 hurdles. When track was finished, she practiced field hockey three days per week throughout the summer. In the fall, Pyles was the keystone of a field hockey team that won its first YAIAA Championship and advanced to the District 3 semifinals for the first time in program history.
Rather than take the winter off, she piled on, competing in indoor track and field while working out with Lehr.
The coach and hurdler would meet, along with other Bermudian Springs athletes, at an old horse barn repurposed for workouts. Many of Adams County’s finest track and field athletes from the last decade or so have put in work within the facility. Few have put in more hours than Pyles, who, along with boys’ 300 hurdle record holder Payton Rohrbaugh, have been model athletes.
“They showed up to every practice,” Lehr said. “One did better one week and the other did better the next. That’s been the story to their success. I’ve never had a boy and girl top notch at the same time. It’s a good competition to keep them on their toes.”
The barn includes a 60-meter stretch of track, where Pyles and other Adams County competitors can work on four-hurdle stretches at a time. The treadmill drill known as the Dominator is the most daunting.
The athlete’s nerves begin to build as Lehr straps them in with a harness. Then they’re asked to put their feet to the sides of the belt so it can get up to speed. Once it’s reached 15 miles per hour or so, Lehr grins. Hop on, he says.
“You run until he tells you to stop,” Pyles said. “It trains us to run at top speeds with endurance. Without that, I wouldn’t be where I am. I would never believe I could run that fast without it.”
In one of Pyles first trials, she was pitched backward by the machine. Her toes dragged to the back of the belt as she laughed nervously, suspended by the harness. The sensation has become a rite of passage for any runner who steps foot in the barn.
“Grab the handles, pick yourself and keep running,” she says, imitating Lehr’s orders to the new recruits. “Then they’re like, ‘What? Keep running?’ and their eyes get really big. All of us just shake our head, ‘yeah we were there three years ago.’”
The track and field season didn’t start quite the way that Pyles had hoped. Though she’d needed no extra motivation in the winter, she found herself feeling lonely in the first week of spring practice. Mostly, she missed her friends, Aine Yacapsin, Deanna Boyer and Makalyn Shupp, who graduated last year.
“We were all slightly better than each other in different aspects on the track,” she said. “We were always there in practice to motivate each other when one of us was lacking the extra push.”
This year, that push came from outside the program in a way Pyles hadn’t anticipated. At the Adams County Invitational on the first weekend in April, she failed to defend her 100 hurdles or 300 hurdles titles. Fairfield’s Zoe Logue and Gettysburg’s Lora Bertram, both sophomores, snatched them up.
“It wasn’t until then I realized, I’m so unprepared for this season,” Pyles said. “Those couple of losses helped motivate me in a good way, to buckle down and get to where I want to be.”
Since then, Pyles has put everything she has into getting faster in anticipation of their next matchup.
Not only has she become better friends with her younger teammates, she also looks forward to running against Logue. The Green Knight won the head to head in the regular season dual meet, but Pyles caught her at the Shippensburg Invitational. They’ll see each other next at the YAIAA Track and Field Championships at Dallastown next Friday.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete for a sophomore,” Pyles said. “I wish I could practice with Zoe. Having someone competitive to run with makes things so much nicer. I told her one week she can come to school at Bermudian Springs and next week I’ll go to her classes at Fairfield.”
Pyles is planning to take one last crack at her school’s 300 hurdles record (Paula Keller, 47.02, 1996) at the YAIAA championships. At districts, she’ll focus on the 100 hurdles to further cement her legacy.
Giving up competitive athletics was not an easy choice for Pyles. Acceptance to her dream school, Clemson, softened the blow, but she said the $55,000 yearly tuition for an out-of-state architecture student was too much to bear.
The in-state fee drops to $13,000 a year, so Pyles will spend her first two years at Greenville Technical, which happens to have a matching course track with Clemson through the first year.
“I’m going to switch my license and my car and go be a South Carolina resident, hopefully this summer,” she said, adding that the academics were a strong pull. “I love the area down there. I wanted something a little different than here. Everything looks the same in Adams County. I also grew up on the water and that’s a big thing down there, so now I can do what I like to do recreationally as well.”