Kyra Kilwein: Attitude is Everything

Oct. 21, 2011

Ask any athlete about their attitude and work ethic and they will tell you it is as almost as important as the practice and time they put into their sport. For Kansas junior Kyra Kilwein, that attitude and work ethic has earned her a pivotal role on the cross country team.

102111aaa_144_4485220.jpeg“Before each race, I just try to think about what my plan is and what I need to focus on in the race so I can execute the best that I can,” Kilwein said. “Other than that I just try and have fun.”

That last part has been something that the Lawrence native has had to work on. Kilwein admits she can sometimes take a race too seriously.

“In the past I looked at running as a job, but now I have learned that I need to just have fun when I am out there,” she said. “I perform better when I have fun.”

That new found approach helped the distance runner notch two top 10 finishes during her sophomore season.

“I would say last year at Rim Rock (2010 Bob Timmons Classic), I began to look at my races like that,” Kilwein remembered. “I said to myself I love the course, so I am going to just go out there, have fun and win it.”

Win it she did, as she mastered the course she once raced on during high school, with her first individual title. That momentum has carried into her junior season as she has already compiled half of the total top 10 finishes she earned last season. In September she finished in sixth place at the Missouri Cross Country Challenge.

“The reason I love running is to compete,” Kilwein said. “Sometimes in practice I compete with my teammates but in a race I love to try and distance myself from others so I can try to beat them.”

That competitive attitude is not something that lends itself to the course alone. The community health major is a force to be reckoned with inside the classroom.

“I try my hardest to get the best grades that I can,” Kilwein said. “I may have a bad test here or there, but that is when I say to myself, ‘okay, my next test I am going to get an A’.

I cannot doubt myself or get discouraged. I have to think positive and believe that I can learn this and get my degree.”

102111aaa_144_7064325.jpegWhat Kilwein has also learned is that ultimately it is her responsibility if she wants to improve in school and in athletics.

“The biggest adjustment for me going to college is that I learned I am in control of my own life,” she explained. “If I want to become a better runner I have to go the coaches and ask, ‘How can I improve?’ With my classes, it is kind of similar because I have to go to the professors and ask them, ‘What can I do to improve my grade?’, so I have learned to become independent and take on more responsibility for myself and my goals.”

That can-do attitude is something that her coaches have come to appreciate.

“She is definitely somebody who continues to ask questions so she can get better”, said assistant coach Michael Whittlesey. “I think every athlete is in charge of getting themselves better and Kyra does a very good job of understanding that responsibility and moving forward with it.”

The realization that her success on the course is in her hands is something the Free State High School grad learned quickly after making the transition to KU.

“I was so used to being the number one runner (in high school), but my freshman and sophomore years (at KU), I really struggled,” Kilwein recalled. “There were better runners than me here and because of that I learned to push myself and was able to stick with it. Now, I am in a position where I know I am still not number one, but because I pushed myself, I have improved.”

102111aaa_144_4157363.jpegDespite having made sizeable strides since she came to college, Kilwein still has some lofty goals for herself during the rest of the season and her remaining collegiate career.

“I really want our team to make it to nationals and perform really well at Big 12’s,” she said. “As for me, I want to continue to improve from last year, but I also would like to score at Big 12 (Championships), so I can help the team get the job done.”

For Kilwein, that goal does not seem too far out of reach, because after all, she is well aware that behind each goal set, lies a determination and the power to accomplish them.

“The dreams and goals I have for myself, I have to seek them out and try to do them,” she concluded.

That take charge approach has taken this 5-2 distance runner from the tough transition of varsity high school sports to college athletics. But it is that same attitude that will take Kyra Kilwein to the lofty expectations she has set for herself, because after all, she is the one setting her course on the path to success in life.