That’s the superhero that Kaylin Whitney says best describes her on the track. She prefers Tom Holland’s version of the character because as she puts it, he’s constantly in a state of fun.
“..He just seems like he’s having fun all the time and that’s how I feel like now,” Whitney said. “I just have fun with what I do, and I do love it. And that’s just how I feel all the time.”
She certainly felt that way on the evening of June 20, the night she qualified for the 4×400 relay team at the 2020 Olympic Trials. But the journey wasn’t always fun or easy for the 23-year-old Olympian.
Whitney has been competing in the sport since she was 7 years old. She’s used to competing in high-pressure meets and coming out victorious.
She attended East Ridge High School in her hometown of Clermont, Fl. where she currently resides. During her high school days, she faced some of the best athletes that the talent-filled state of Florida and the country had to offer, but that didn’t stop her from setting the track on fire when she competed.
She ran blazing times in the 100 meters (11.10) and in the 200 meters (22.49). Both of these times were run at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field and are her personal bests in the respective events.
She announced on Instagram on her 17th birthday that she signed a professional contract with Nike and that she would train with the Star Athletics training group. The elite group features elite athletes such as Kenny Bednarek and Sha’Carri Richardson and trains at Montverde Academy under coach Dennis Mitchell.
Whitney said that she was used to the pressure that she faced while in high school, but once she became a professional athlete, the pressure that she faced was on a different level.
“This isn’t just some play-play stuff anymore,” she said. “This is like okay, you know, I’m getting paid for this, I feed my family for this like, you know. It’s just a whole different level of seriousness.”
Whitney failed to make the finals of the 2016 Olympic Trials in the 100 meters and the 200 meters and never really found her groove as a professional. While this was a difficult phase in her career, she did some soul searching to figure out what was going on.
“I wasn’t even myself for a long time,” she said. “I was trying to figure out what was going on & why I wasn’t performing the way I wanted to perform. It took a lot of soul searching & crying on the track and just kind of figuring it out. At the end of the day, it’s just you running.”
“You know, you got your coaches and your family, you have your friends – you have a whole village of people behind you to support you regardless.”
She credits her parents, her girlfriend and her coaches for their support for her during the difficult time of seeing the vision, even when she couldn’t. Interestingly enough for Whitney, the light at the end of the tunnel was a full lap around the track.
Whitney said that everyone had always told her that she should run the 400, but she did not second that emotion. It was a race that she said she never ran, but after discussions with coach Mitchell, she decided to give it a try, even though it was a difficult transition.
Whitney said that the event makes you eat differently, sleep differently and train differently compared to the shorter sprints. She mentioned that you need the endurance and power of a middle-distance runner and the speed of a short-sprinter.
Despite the challenges that come with the event, it’s something that she’s come to appreciate and enjoy.
“I would say that it’s definitely one of those events where you don’t pick it, it picks you,” she said. “I just love the grind of it too. It’s just that hard, solid, putting together good days of work.”
Whitney returned to Hayward Field in June hoping for a different result from the one she had in 2016. All of the lessons that she learned during the years of struggle paid off in a big way.
She ran a personal best in every round of the Women’s 400m race.
During the finals of the Women’s 400m dash, everything came together for her. Similar to Spiderman using his superpowers to complete his mission and save the day, Whitney reached back in her arsenal to use her speed and strength to finish the job and achieve a lifelong goal of hers, which was to become an Olympian.
She crossed the finish line in fifth place, running a new personal best of 50.29 and earning a spot on the 4×400 relay team. The accomplishment was a long-time coming for Whitney, who found joy in the journey and despite her ups and downs, never lost love for the sport she’s always loved.
Whitney is very simple and laid back. She plays video games, owns four birds including a parakeet and loves vegan ice cream. But the one thing that she wants people to know about her when they see her is that she’s an example of what not giving up looks like.
“In short, this is what never giving up looks like with everything,” she said. “This is what doing what you love looks like…do what makes you smile, do what makes you happy, and I promise you, all of your biggest dreams and goals that you have in your life – if you work towards them with joy, they’ll pay you back.”
Graphics by Katherine Burgess – Follow her work on Instagram @katherine_kart