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In Review

ATHLETICS HISTORYA Winning Track Record One of the most decorated athletes in Rochester’s history, national champion Kylee Bartlett ’19 is cherishing the balance she’s found in her final season. By Scott Sabocheck | Photographs by J. Adam Fenster

Kylee Bartlett ’19 admits she was unsure about continuing her track and field career after high school.

A state-championship pentathlete as a student in Williamstown, New York, Bartlett thought she, and her body, needed a break from the rigors of competition.

When she initially visited the River Campus, she didn’t contact Rochester track and field coaches, but Bartlett eventually met with Jay Petsch, a former NCAA Division I decathlete who is now a Rochester coach. Petsch talked about Rochester’s commitment to academic excellence and how the track and field program works to complement the sometimes challenging workload.

Bartlett says many of her worries dissipated as she learned more about Rochester.

“It seemed more manageable, that I would be receiving help and guidance on how to maintain my body and health while still competing at a high level,” she says. “I think the training in the offseason is really helpful to stay healthy too, not having to come back each year from ground zero.”

Far from having to begin each season from scratch, Bartlett has established a remarkable legacy as an athlete and as a student. A three-time NCAA Division III national champion, Bartlett is a two-time Academic All-American, including a selection as a first team honoree, the first woman track and field athlete to earn that recognition.

Going into her final indoor season this winter and final outdoor season this spring, she’s a two-time defending title holder in the outdoor heptathlon, a multi-event competition that’s scored based on each athlete’s results in the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, javelin throw, and 200- and 800-meter runs.

In 2017, she won the indoor track and field national championship in the pentathlon, a competition that includes the 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, long jump, shot put, and high jump.

In the history of Rochester athletics, only Bartlett and Josefa Benzoni ’88, ’92W (MA), who was a member of the track and field teams of the 1980s, have captured three national titles.

As a first-year student at Rochester, Bartlett finished in 16th place at the national indoor championships. Then came her sophomore year, when she won the first NCAA title for Rochester track and field since Benzoni’s title in 1989 and the first Rochester championship in any sport since 2006. She did so in school record fashion, accumulating 3,528 points.

“Indoor was a huge surprise to win,” says Bartlett. “After I won, I kept waiting for someone to tell me that it wasn’t real or I did something wrong.”

That spring, at the outdoor championships, Bartlett captured the heptathlon crown with another school record of 5,020 points.

“I was kind of riding out a high all year after the indoor title,” says Bartlett. “Coming into the outdoor meet, I knew I had a right to be there and really could compete with these amazing athletes. If I focused on myself and what I was doing, it will just fall into place, which it did.”

Her double win was just the third in NCAA Division III women’s track and field history, matching Hardin-Simmons’s Ashley Huston in 2009 and Carleton’s Amelia Campbell in 2014.

As a junior, she set another school record for the pentathlon at the national indoors meet, but she finished in fourth place.

“Junior year I struggled a lot, trying to follow up sophomore year,” says Bartlett. “My mind and body were fighting each other; they weren’t always working together. Obviously in the moment of losing, it really stunk.”

Entering the 2018 Division III outdoor championships, Bartlett was seeded third, but viewed herself as an underdog because of her performance at the indoor meet. But she responded with a gritty performance and won the title, eking out a win by 38 points.

“It probably is one of the proudest moments of my athletic career,” she says. “It wasn’t a huge win, where I had a really good day, but I worked until the very end to sneak out with that victory. It was just something that I could walk away with from track that year.”

Petsch agrees. “The win outdoors was the best emotional feeling because she had to battle back. She didn’t have her best meet, but she pulled off something special, and it was so cool to see.”

Going into her final two seasons, Bartlett is less concerned about the possibility of winning two more championships than she is with cherishing her time as an athlete and student.

She credits some of that perspective to her activities off the track, including studying abroad last summer. She’s also a regular volunteer at Heritage Christian Stables in the Rochester suburb of Webster, where she is part of a group that helps with horseback riding lessons for people with disabilities.

Her studies as a brain and cognitive sciences major have been key as well, helping to provide a “more cerebral approach to track,” she says.

“I am very aware when my mind isn’t on board with my body, and I know that trying to fake it doesn’t work out.”

“Sometimes your body’s response to stressors is worse than the stressor itself,” Bartlett says. “It is better to acknowledge the stressor’s presence in your life without fighting it because that only makes things more difficult.”

Benzoni says that’s an important lesson for athletes to learn.

“Perhaps mental preparedness is more important than physical at the NCAA championships,” says Benzoni. “At NCAAs, all athletes have the physical ability to achieve a championship, but he or she who is optimally prepared mentally conquers the competition.”

Regardless of where she finishes on the podium, Bartlett is on pace for success.

“I want to finish out the hard work and make sure it’s all worth it, seeing where it takes me,” she says. “Trusting in the process is really what it comes down to. This year I want to come back as an all-around athlete, not just physically, but mentally as well.”

Scott Sabocheck is assistant director of communications for the Department of Athletics and Recreation.