Fun-loving attitude brings athletic successes for Carlson

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She was never intimidated by those final moments in the starting block. She never seems to take anything too seriously, but the look on her face stepping into the blocks was legendary.
At the same time, though, it was clear Kyla Carlson was having a good time doing what she loved most. An electric grin let you know she was having the time of her life.
Carlson blossomed into one of Aurora’s most decorated running athletes in recent memory. Plenty of success for someone that had little direction as a freshman.
That problem isn’t exclusive to Carlson. It happens all the time -- track coaches have trouble finding the right event for an athlete to compete in.
Throughout her freshman year, Carlson dabbled in several events. Many thought she’d take to pole vaulting just like her dad, Chad, who was a standout vaulter for the Huskies years back.
Despite the family genes, it just didn’t stick.
Then, the Aurora coaches entered Carlson in the open 400. The rest is history.
Being honest, when it was finally announced that spring sports were cancelled, my heart first broke for the Giltner girls track team and the opportunity to make more history as a six-time defending state track champions went by the wayside. That’s something still hard to process right now.
The second heartbreak for me was for Carlson and losing a chance to make one more memorable moment at Burke Stadium.
Sure, she has plenty of them and will take those onto the next chapter of life. But what could have been still keeps me up at night.
It’s not the end of her competitive road, however, as she will trade in her Aurora uniform for the signature blue of the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
She will have plenty of chances to continue making memories and shaving off her 400 time.
Like at the 2018 Central Nebraska Track Championships, when Carlson broke the tape 58.69 seconds, the second-fastest time in school history.
That singular moment was made so much better because of the event and how its run.
The event features the best athletes from all schools across central Nebraska, regardless of classification. It’s always fun to see the speedsters from Giltner taking on top runners from Aurora or Grand Island Northwest.
It was also special because of Carlson’s immediate reaction. At the GINW facility, they show the stopwatch up on the scoreboard overlooking the finish line.
So when Carlson broke the tape, she instantaneously looked up to see what it was and broke down into an emotional wreck of happiness, tiredness and hysteria.
Carlson is one of those rare athletes that could beat almost anyone in a single lap sprint race while also finding success in longer events, like cross country.
I’ve never heard of anyone else doing what Carlson did at the 2017 state cross country meet.
The Lady Huskies had a chance to win a state title, months after winning a state title in track while also looking for back-to-back trophies in cross country.
Aurora did win that state title as Carlson finished 10th in what was her best time at the Kearney course over her high school career. How she did it was wild. A one-shoe wonder, if you will.
I hadn’t seen her through the second half of the race as I was positioned at the finish line to take photos and count finishing spots in my mind.
It was thrilling to see Carlson, along with teammates Maya Nachtigal and Emily Donnell in the top 15. What was odd was spotting Carlson without a left shoe on.
She charged through the second half of the event without a left shoe attached.
I’ve never understood this. I have trouble walking across my backyard without shoes on and Carlson not only has the wherewithal to keep running, but to do it at the success rate she did. A top 10 finish in Class B and helping the Lady Huskies win a state title.  
I could always tell how a race involving Carlson would go just watching her in those final preparation moments.
As she practiced coming out of the blocks and doing her final stretches, she would find me. I could be inside the curve, on the outside of the track, it didn’t matter. Somehow she’d always spot me.
Once she did, there was always that moment where she’d flash a signature smile along with an over-the-top wave.
At that point, I had full confidence that she was going to win the race.
There were other times, however, sometimes moreso in the relay races where she had a steely look on her face, a sheer look of determination that was unmatched by anyone else on the track.
In those moments, I worried more about the rest of the competition and how far behind they would be, because she probably set or came close to a new record.
Often, there isn’t a lot of crossover between successful athletes and ones able to display personality in the field of play.
Kyla Carlson could do both.
RICHARD RHODEN can be reached at


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