All Kylie Johnson needed was a little shove.
When she was an underclassmen she didn’t mind competing in track and field events, but after a little push from her mom a running star was born.
“As a sophomore she started out the season sprinting and her mom forced her to run the 400 at Newkirk, and she finally got mad at her (mom), stomped off and ran the 400 and won,” Kylie’s father Casey Johnson said. “So she figured out she was a middle-distance runner.”
And a good one at that.
Since Johnson, a senior at Woodland High School, discovered her niche for middle-distance running three years ago she’s worked her way up and possibly onto the University of Central Oklahoma’s first ever women’s track team in Edmond.
As a freshman she participated in the pole vault event and as a sophomore she placed 6th in the pole vault event at the state meet.
Johnson said her junior year is by far her best. She ran the 300-meter hurdles, two-mile relay and pole-vaulted. It qualified her for the 2A state meet in all three. She medaled in every track meet her junior year and qualified for the state meet.
She went from having to be dragged out of bed for practice to spending extra time conditioning, and it wasn’t easy.
“Freshman year I didn’t really train hard,” she said. “I was kind of lazy but I didn’t have anybody to train with me, so I didn’t make it to state.”
On both the cross country and track teams Johnson was the only female runner her freshman and sophomore year. It wasn’t until last year she acquired some female teammates.
Having no one to turn to on the team she developed a bond with her coach Paula Tiger-Martinez, who was a six-time state champion as a Fairfax Red Devil, before the district consolidated to become the Woodland Cougars.
“She pushed me and she made me do things I didn’t want to do,” Johnson said. “…She told me go out there and do it, I have faith in you, and I’m out here and I’m winning, really it’s all her.”
Martinez had known Johnson since she was in the seventh grade. She said she knew Kylie as a student and athlete, and knew she had what it took to be a successful runner.
“I just knew she was very athletic, she had the self-motivated drive. I really didn’t have to do a whole lot of motivating because she was self motivated, and that’s what you look for, for quality in athletes,” Martinez said. “Even though she was on the teams by herself all these years she never did use it as an excuse.”
Johnson said being the only girl on the team made her stronger. The loneliness prepared her for leadership for the girls who later started to take interest in both the cross-country and track teams.
She said before the other girls joined her focus was on improving herself as a runner.
“They were just inspirational, I inspired them to go out and work their hardest, so really, then is when I fell in love with really wanting to be out there working my hardest, trying to teach them – you put your mind to do something you can do it,” Johnson said. “It (running) relaxes me, it helps me not stress out. I can get away from everybody and just be able to compete for me, in general makes it a whole lot better.”
In March Johnson decided she wanted to carry her competitiveness to a higher level when she told her coach she’d like to run college track.
Martinez decided to call the coach at UCO, who was a friend of hers, and see if she could get Johnson in for a visit and a meeting.
Johnson planned to attend UCO long before she decided she wanted to run college track. She initially planned to obtain a running scholarship through the ROTC program at UCO. She said whether she received a scholarship or not she planned on study kinesiology and to walk onto the team.
After a quick visit to the school and with the coach in late March Johnson said she verbally agreed to run track at the university.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was just like ‘me’? I always thought I’m not good enough. I’m not fast enough, it’s just brute force and ignorance, I just got out there and I run, and if I win I win, if I don’t I don’t,” Johnson said. “Just knowing that I get to go there and get to do what I love doing, it’s just unbelievable, I can’t wrap my head around it.”
Neither can her parents, Casey Johnson and his wife Johnna Johnson.
Casey Johnson has worked in the University of Central Oklahoma’s ROTC program for five years and knows how dedicated his daughter his.
“(I’m) proud. She wants to serve her country, that’s what most parents want for their kids to do the best that they can to succeed,” he said. “I don’t care if she wins as long as she’s happy and successful doing whatever she wants to do.”
Martinez said if Johnson decides to run track at UCO she couldn’t think of a better person for their first-year women’s track program.
She said she remembers when Kylie walked up to her the day after the Woodland boys football team won their state championship and told her she was jealous and wanted to win a state championship of her own.
Martinez said hearing that just shows how determined Johnson is to be successful.
“It’s just like she never looked at being second or third, she wants to be No. 1,” Martinez said. “Athletes like her aren’t a dime of dozen, you just can’t find girls that are self motivated, have the desire, willing to pay the price to get to where they want to go.
“She’s one of the most self-motivated people I know.”