For many high school seniors, the decision to pursue collegiate athletics is driven by their desire to tend to unfinished business. Whether that be a bitter loss, unfulfilled dreams, or a significant injury, many high school seniors go on to compete collegiately in a bid to continue their athletic journey. For Loras College track and field senior thrower Kayla Weatherly (’21), this narrative was all too familiar.
After competing at the Illinois state track meet in both discus and shot put as a senior and securing an eighth-place finish in her best event, the shot put, Weatherly had ended her high school career on a note that many athletes dream of. But for the Westmont, Ill. native, this Cinderella ending wasn’t all it was cracked up to be; due to an early morning rain storm, the state shot put competition was contested indoors. It was the only event of the meet to do so, leaving Weatherly with a lack of satisfaction in her experience.
“I accomplished a lot of my goals in my high school career, but after that performance at the state meet, I knew I needed to keep throwing. I knew I had more left to give,” Weatherly said.
For Weatherly, this journey hasn’t always been easy in her four years as a student-athlete. During her time as a Duhawk, Kayla overcame two coaching changes, struggled through low grades as a freshman, and eventually tried quitting twice before having a heart-to-heart conversation with Women’s Track and Field Head Coach Matt Jones (’05).
“Jones assured me that anything you can offer to build the team up absolutely does not go unnoticed,” she recalled.
This conversation would go on to drive Weatherly to success both academically and athletically throughout the reminder of her time at Loras. After starting at Loras as an athletic training major, Weatherly eventually found her niche in the classroom in the form of kinesiology thanks to a connection with Associate Professor of Kinesiology Dr. Elaina Biechler that kickstarted this love for her eventual major.
Weatherly noted Dr. Biechler’s exercise physiology class as one of the highlights of her academic career as a Duhawk due to her personal relationship with her professor, but also the content area. Ultimately, it was Dr. Biechler’s tough love, accountability, and stories that won Weatherly over, allowing her to find solace in academics, a place she had often struggled throughout the duration of her freshman year.
Fast forward four years and Weatherly is looking to return to Loras to pursue the college’s free fifth year option in order to throw for one more year before applying for grad school somewhere in the Midwest next spring. As a member of the First Generation Scholars program at Loras, graduating from college, and attending graduate school for physical therapy are no small feats.
As the daughter of two parents who never finished college, there were many unknowns for Weatherly when she was applying for colleges in high school. Talk of scholarships, loans, and financial aid were all but foreign to Weatherly as she explored her options. Even now, the thought of filling out FAFSA repulses Kayla after attempting to do so in high school.
“When I first told my mom that I wanted to go to college, she told me there was no way,” Weatherly said. “She said that people like us don’t go to college. But now, looking back and being able to graduate just means so much because my parents were never fortunate enough to have those opportunities.”
If there’s one word to sum up someone as vivacious as Weatherly, it is grateful. Grateful for opportunities, for the ability to attend college and pursue a degree, but in a current day and age that practically revolves around COVID protocols, Weatherly is particularly thankful for the opportunity to compete this spring. After having her junior outdoor season ripped from her hands, she is determined to make the most of her remaining eligibility. For her, that currently means mentoring her younger teammates.
Often described as the team mom, Weatherly fills a variety of roles for her teammates, including mentor, coach, and her personal favorite: chef. There have been many an occasion when the Loras throwing squad has gathered at her house to indulge in a pre-meet meal, ranging from vegan pasta to chili. She credits her cooking ability to many phone calls with her father, a talented chef in his own right, who owns his own barbecue business.
On a throwing squad that has seven newcomers, the senior took an immediate leadership role this fall in an effort to steer her young teammates in the right direction. Whether it was arranging captains’ practices, building up younger teammates, or offering a break from the cafeteria, Weatherly has offered guidance in numerous ways. Weatherly recognizes that this is by far the closest bond she’s shared with any of her teammates she’s had in her time as a Duhawk.
“I’m very invested in their success. If I got worked up or frustrated with them, it’s only because I care and want them to succeed,” she said
While this season may look unorthodox, as the indoor conference meet grows closer, Weatherly knows that it will possess the same energy and passion of years past, perhaps even more due to the reduced schedule. Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, she knows that she will remain focused, driven, and ready for whatever opportunity comes her way.