Cross Country Athlete Makes SLIAC History
Jessie Kuykendall can claim to be something that no one else in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) can: a three-time champion.
Not only is the senior from Warsaw, Missouri, the most decorated runner to compete for Westminster College, but after capturing her third consecutive SLIAC title this past season, she becomes the only runner in conference history to complete the feat.
Along with her three conference titles. Kuykendall has added 11 Runner of the Week awards and holds both the 5K and 6K records at Westminster. She set the 6K record of 21 minutes, 59.24 seconds during the SLIAC title race of 2017, while earning the 5K record in her sophomore season at the Missouri Stampede hosted by Missouri Southern University, completing the race in 18:45.48.
While cross country has proved to be her most dominant sport, Kuykendall has seen great success on the track team as well, earning first-place finishes in both the 10K and the 5K at the 2017 and 2018 SLIAC Championships, bringing her championship total to seven.
Her time as an NCAA Division III athlete at Westminster taught her many valuable skills, she claims. “Being a student-athlete has helped my time here at Westminster because I have learned so many valuable skills. Time management is a big one. I am constantly trying to balance school and work with running, but also trying to enjoy my time here with friends. It can get pretty busy and hectic at times, but I enjoy a busy life. I also learned the value of hard work and determination. If you work hard enough and are determined to succeed, there is nothing that could stop you from reaching your goal.”
Along with Kuykendall’s athletic success, she is one of the top students at Westminster, majoring in psychology and holding on to a 3.63 grade point average, and is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Last season, the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association of America (USTFCCCA) honored her with an individual academic award for her high GPA. She is also a three-time SLIAC All-Academic team honoree.
Westminster’s education led Jessie to discover her passion for teaching fitness and health to those with special needs. A combination of volunteering at a special needs camp and her classes and professors at Westminster helped her find this passion.
“From being an athlete, I have learned all the benefits mentally and physically, that athletics can bring you,” she said. “Everyone should have the opportunity to experience being an athlete. Having a disability should not prevent someone from participating in a sport, which is why I want to help provide that opportunity for the special needs population.”
“Westminster provided me with the classes and resources I needed to expand my knowledge and really get a deeper understanding of health and fitness,” continued Kuykendall. “My professors have helped me by giving me the opportunity to do service learning within the community and help me discover more career paths that I could take with this idea. I am thankful for Westminster academics and athletics for everything they have provided me with.”
Kuykendall finishes her time at Westminster in the spring and is still exploring how to pursue her professional goals in working with those with special needs.
“The best part of being a student athlete here is getting to experience everything the college has to offer and the relationships made along the way,” said Kuykendall. “Some of my best memories from Westminster come from time spent with friends. From practice to class to attending events at Westminster, I’ve made so many great memories. All the late nights and early mornings, plus everything in between has made my time at Westminster go by so quickly.”