Josiah Van Wingarden | Media Specialist
In her third season on Whitworth’s track & field team, Kayla Leland, ‘18 is a key contributor to the success of the track and field Pirates. Leland recently earned the award for Student Athlete of the Week for the sixth time this season, capping off a year of setting seasonal bests
Leland decided to run the 5000-meter race for the first time at the Sam Adams Classic, hosted by Whitworth in late March. Leland shattered the seven-year-old record, set in 2010 by Joy Shufeldt by more than 21 seconds.
“I did run cross country for the first time this past year, but I had never run a 5k or that long of a distance on the track before,” Leland said. “So [Coach Toby Schwarz] thought it would be a good opportunity to just see what time I could run on the track [at that distance] and do that before all the other running events would be.”
The previous school record was 17:28.53. Leland’s time was 17:07.11.
“She is arguably the best distance runner in the school’s history,” Schwarz said.
Leland chose to run the 5000-meters because she had support from her coach and teammates, she said.
Schwarz coaches the track and field team and the cross country team and has coached Leland for three years.
He had encouraged Leland to participate in the event because of Leland’s experience in the 6k cross country event, in which she finished 12th in the nation.
“I thought she could break the school record,” Schwarz said. “She’s obviously really good, she’s ranked top in the nation in the 800 [meters] and the 1500 [meters] and now the 5k, but I think the 5k is probably her best race.”
Despite Leland’s successful season, one full of personal accolades, freshman teammate Sarah Cool said Leland does not highlight or brag about her accomplishments.
“We all think she’s a beast, she’s a machine, she’s just like this superhero on the team,” Cool said. “But she never, ever, makes it seem like she’s more superior than the rest of us. She makes sure she’s the same as us even though she’s an amazing athlete.”
Leland studies health science on the pre-pharmacy track at Whitworth. She is a Spokane local who attended Gonzaga Prep High School. When she is not breaking school records on the track, Leland enjoys playing basketball, cooking and spending time with her family, she said.
Leland credits Schwarz’s philosophy of integrating faith as a part of the athletic program. It was a deciding factor in her choice to attend Whitworth and compete for the track and field team, she said.
She also enjoys being a part of a team that encourages one another and pushes each other to reach their full potential.
“It’s been great to be able to compete in a supportive area where people really care about you arriving to your potential and doing the best that you can do in all areas,” Leland said. “Not just athletically, but also academically, spiritually and socially.”
Leland is currently preparing to compete in the Northwest Conference championships scheduled to begin April 21 at 2 p.m.
“[Leland’s success] says that when we get people who are talented like she is, that [our program] can help them to reach their full potential,” Schwarz said.
For more information about the schedule, ticket purchasing, or location of events, please visit www.whitworthpirates.com.