SHELBY ― She is arguably the best female cross country runner to ever come out of Shelby.
Actually, there is no argument. That is just straight fact.
But, in her mind, Shelby senior Kayla Gonzales still has so much more to prove. In her mind, she has more work to do and more things to accomplish despite everything she has already achieved.
She is far from satisfied. And she refuses to settle.
Gonzales is the program record-holder with a personal best of 18:38.7 set at last year's district championship race where she took home the individual title. She is a three-time Richland County Meet individual champion, claiming the crown her freshman, junior and senior years. She is a three-time state qualifier — all signs point to her making it four straight this year — and she became the highest placing female cross country runner in a state meet in program history by taking 15th last year with a time of 18:46.5.
The previous best result for the Whippets was Lisa Smith's 16th-place finish in 1988.
And Gonzales still has her senior year to go.
So what else is left to accomplish? She is the greatest female cross country runner in Shelby High School history. Yet, in Gonzales's mind, there is still so much left to do.
"I am very competitive when it comes to sports," she said. "If I am not being the best that I can be, it doesn't sit well. I just like to know that I am working hard because I know that someone else somewhere is working harder than me. That makes me want to work harder than them, so it is always that consent battle."
Gonzales got her start in the sport at a very young age when she and her siblings would go to the Shelby YMCA as part of a youth running program. It is how many high school athletes get their start in sports — play youth leagues, continue to work up the ladder and, eventually, make it to the varsity level.
But the ones to actually do something with their opportunities have something different inside — a competitive fire that burns even at a very young age. Gonzales had that from the start.
"My family and siblings always pushed competitive sports," she said. "We all started at the Shelby YMCA and a youth running program as a fun activity that everyone would do. I was always a try-hard when I was little and had the desire to win races even at that age. That just grew in me over the years to be the best I can be."
If she ran in a youth race at the Shelby Y and didn't win, it wasn't a good day. Gonzales wouldn't throw a fit, but she wouldn't be her happiest self until she returned for the next race and won. Winning was everything, and when you mix that desire with the love for a sport, you get a special athlete.
She credits her parents for her championship attributes.
"It is just built in me," Gonzales said. "I've learned a lot from my parents because they have such great worth ethics, and seeing them work hard when I was growing up, it taught me to not settle for average. If you can do more, do more. Never settle for anything less than your best."
Her best is always finishing first. She is a two-time Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference individual champion, a two-time Galion Cross Country Festival individual champion and a two-time Tiffin Cross Country Carnival individual champ. She has one district championship and has finished in the top 10 at the regional meet twice.
So while running is fun for Gonzales, it is far from all fun and games when she toes the starting line at a meet or at practice.
"We have fun with the team in practice, but on race day it is time to be serious and get the work done," she said. "We can go have fun after practice and after meets, but when it is time to work hard, work hard."
Gonzales possesses an attitude that takes years and years to develop, and she has done it at a young age. She just turned 18 the day of the Galion Cross Country Festival, a race she won with a time of 19:06.2, but she understood what it took to be successful in the sport. It took dedication, hard work, countless hours of perfecting her craft and a love for what she does that outweighs anything else.
"Running is my outlet," Gonzales said. "A stressful day can always be made better by going for a run. That is what relieves everything in me. My love for this sport has grown so much since my freshman year. I've done this since kindergarten, but over the last four years I have grown to take it more seriously and it has become a big part of my life. It taught me a lot. Good work ethic and an appreciation for what you can do because this sport takes a lot."
Gonzales is getting out of cross country what she puts into it. She started out the season with a win at the Richland County meet. She followed that up by placing third at the Seneca East Tiger Classic with a time of 18:56.80 in a race featuring the biggest schools in the state. The next week, she was second in the Division I race at the Ashland Cross Country Invite with a 19:04.7 and followed that up with a huge individual win at the Tiffin Cross Country Carnival in 18:51.8 in the Division II race.
The next week, she won the Galion meet on her birthday.
Last week, Gonzales was second at the Ontario Bill Brown Invite behind New London sensation Reese Landis yet still ran a 19:07.29 on one of the toughest courses she will see all year. It was a race she learned a lot from as well as the previous two races.
"I like to start off really fast and get in the lead right off of the line," Gonzales said. "That has been my strategy when I race. But the last few weeks have taught me to settle in and not overdo it so early in the race. It has been a great learning lesson, so now I will go in and try to pace with people and strategize a little better moving forward."
That is Gonzales. Despite all of her success, she learns a little more from every race. She is always a student of the sport despite being the best in her program's history.
She wants to learn more so she can move forward as she sets her sights on her senior year postseason. She still has the Marion Harding Invite — a meet she won last year in 18:57.5 — on Oct. 8 before she turns all of her attention to the MOAC meet on Oct. 15 and the district, regional and state meet in the following weeks.
And despite all of her success over the last three years in those four meets, Gonzales continues to work hard each day in practice so she can prove herself yet again.
Because she is far from satisfied.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Shelby's Kayla Gonzales looking to add to cross country legacy