David Cook hoped the streak wasn’t going to come to an end.
It was meaningful to the Wilton cross country coach that in his 10 seasons as a coach for the Beavers to that point, they had never not scored as a team in a girls race, something that didn’t happen often before then.
At last season’s Class 2A state-qualifying meet, however, the Beavers had just five girls available to race, including Kaylee Ford, who was dealing with a back pain that had gotten worse and wasn't ever diagnosed despite attempts to do so.
“It definitely was the worst,” Ford said of the pain at that meet. “It really upset me (that she was struggling), but Dave said that he’s never had a team not finish as a whole team. I kind of just did it for him.”
Ford, who said the pain went away after the season was over, finished fourth on the team last Oct. 22 at a difficult meet in 23 minutes, 8 seconds, which she called “my slowest time ever.” Along the way, she showed her coach what exactly she was made of.
“She was running around the course and if you would have seen her, she was in pain. I could tell it. I wanted to pull her off the course,” said Cook, now in his seventh season coaching Wilton. “To her credit, she finished it. That’s probably the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen her do.”
He continued, “That meant the world to me and it just showed me, not only is she dedicated to herself but also her teammates and the program. It’s more than just about her when she’s running.”
Healthy now and determined, Ford is flourishing.
The 20th-ranked runner in 1A according to the Iowa Association of Track Coaches, Ford has run in six races so far this season, never finishing worse than 10th in any of them. She has already won three times, more than doubling her career total entering the fall, including the past two races.
She credits her work this summer running more miles than she ever had for her strong performance, and a proverbial push from a former Durant standout runner who made the jump from her junior to senior season to become a state champion last fall thanks to a determined summer effort.
“Alyssa Williams actually really inspired me a lot,” Ford said, adding of Williams: “She ran a lot in the summer. Just seeing how much success she had, it really [motivated me].”
Ford started her season by defending her title at the Louisa-Muscatine Invitational, and she followed that up by finishing in the top seven against big, strong fields in Iowa City and Tipton.
While her summer work may have set Ford up for success, Cook said there has been a change in her mentality, too.
“This year she’s expecting to be up there,” Cook said. “I think it used to be, I think I can be up there, I think I might have a shot at placing in this. Now she’s expecting (it).”
Entering the season, after running 19:55 at the Wilton Founders Day 5K in late August, Ford's goal was to break 20 minutes. She hasn’t gotten to that point, yet, though her times have raned 20:49 to 21:50 most of the season.
While her times haven’t been precisely where she’d hoped, consistently finishing in the top 10 and winning three races, including Sept. 13 at English Valleys and Tuesday at Mount Pleasant, keeps her on track.
“It gives me a lot more confidence,” Ford said, “and hopefully I can keep doing that.”
Her success is helping guide a Wilton team with four freshmen and a sophomore in its lineup along with Ford and fellow senior Hannah Christensen. The Beavers have seen better results as the season has gone on, including finishing second at Mount Pleasant.
Individually, it’s been a strong start to her senior year for Ford, between her running exploits and being named homecoming queen last week.
Her coach believes more is coming for the 2014 1A state cross country qualifier.
“[The River Valley Conference] is ridiculous, but I think she can medal at conference,” Cook said, “and I think she has a very good shot at medaling at state.”