This Fourth of July, 20-year-old Kayla Montgomery will be honored with the Pathfinder Award at the Village Runner 4th of July 5K in Redondo Beach, Calif. The award is to commemorate her unique and inspiring story of becoming one of North Carolina’s fastest high school long-distance runners, and then going on to become a successful Division I athlete at Nashville’s Lipscomb University, despite having multiple sclerosis (MS), which causes her to lose feeling in her legs when she runs.
You may have heard of or watched Montgomery’s story from the ESPN E:60 episode “Catching Kayla.” She’s known as the girl who collapses into her coach’s arms at the finish line due to the increase in body temperature that causes her to lose feeling in her legs, immediately followed by ice being poured onto her legs to calm the misfiring of nerves.
Some may think the loss of feeling in one’s legs while running is an advantage, but in Montgomery’s case, it made it very difficult for her to judge her pace because she couldn’t feel the pain. When she first started running on the Mount Tabor High School team in 2010, a year after her MS diagnosis, she had to learn how to rely on the movement of her arms in order to control her pace.
She then became not only the fastest girl on her high school team, but also the fastest long-distance runner in the state, having won the North Carolina high school state title in the 3,200-meter in 2013.
Now she’s studying psychology at Lipscomb University, while maintaining a rigorous training schedule of three hours a day, six days a week, covering 60 to 75 miles. Her freshman year, she helped Lipscomb win a fourth successive conference championship, placing 13th overall and seventh for her team in the 5K race.
“I had good enough competition in high school, but I was number one on the team and then running with the boys for three years. So now, I’m on a team with tons of talented runners and it’s really awesome to have that many people to push myself,” said Montgomery on adjusting to collegiate running. “I find myself constantly learning from the girls on my team and I am beyond honored to have been recruited to run for such a strong team.”
On Independence Day, Montgomery will not only be receiving an award, but also running in the 23rd annual Village Runner 4th of July 5K presented by UCLA Health. The race is expected to have up to 4,000 runners and Montgomery will surely finish as one of the race’s top participants. However, having recently come out of an injury to her lower back, she’ll be pursuing a much slower pace than usual and not looking to compete.
After this summer, Montgomery will be entering her senior year of college. Her goal has always been to go into forensics, but now she says she’s leaning toward career opportunities with more flexible hours such as becoming a teacher or professor. Whether it’s through running or a future career in education, though, one thing is for certain: Montgomery will continue to bring awareness to MS and inspiring others who live with the disease.
“I continue to try and push myself to defy the odds so that I can inspire those with MS who gave up,” Montgomery said in a press release. “I want people to know that regardless of what your situation is, it does not have to come out on top, and that there is always a way. Of course, having MS could very easily put limitations on my life if I let it, but that is something I do not plan on ever doing.”