The 2024 Herald-News Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year: Lincoln-Way East’s Kyra Hayden

Junior qualified for state in 100, 300 hurdles, ran on state champion 4x400 relay

Lincoln-Way East’s Kyra Hayden took fourth and qualified for state in the 100-meter hurdles at the Class 3A Lockport Sectional in May in Lockport.

Junior Kyra Hayden was a busy girl for the Lincoln-Way East girls track and field team this spring. So much so that putting her in the right events was a challenge for coach Brian Evans.

“She can run anything from the 100, 200 and 400 [meters], plus the 100 and 300 hurdles as well as the 4x100, 4x200, and 4x400 relays,” Evans said. “That’s eight events right there, and the state only allows us to enter her in a maximum of four. She is just so talented.”

Evans’ decisions paid off, as Hayden qualified for the Class 3A state meet in the 100 and 300 hurdles and ran the opening leg for the state champion 4x400 relay team. Her efforts earned her the honor of 2024 Herald-News Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

Hayden said she and her team ran their best race of the year in the 4x400.

“We were seeded 10th going into the preliminaries,” Hayden said. “We weren’t even expected to make it into the finals. But we ran our best race of the year, and we won the whole thing.

“I ran my best split of the year in that race. I knew I wanted to get off to a good start and give the rest of the team a chance.”

Even with the success in the relay, Hayden said she prefers the hurdles races, especially the 300.

“I really like the 300 more right now because there is more freedom in it,” she said. “You can go over the hurdles with either leg, and there isn’t as much technique involved. In the 100, it is all technique.

“That is the race that I will be working on a lot over the summer. I will be working on my technique. I am pretty good alternating which leg I go over the hurdle with in the 300, but in the 100 it has to be with the same leg. I think with more technical work, I would end up liking the 100 as much as the 300.”

Hayden finished third in the 300 hurdles but did not qualify for the finals in the 100 this season.

She started her track and field career in sixth grade after trying gymnastics and tennis as a youth.

“The other sports – gymnastics and tennis – I wasn’t really into those,” she said. “I was pretty good at track when I started, so I stayed with it. I also played softball in eighth grade, but in high school, I can’t do softball and track at the same time.

“[Lincoln-Way East softball] coach [Elizabeth] Hyland has been my teacher, and she has tried to talk me into coming out for softball, but track is my main sport.”

Lincoln-Way East’s Kyra Hayden competes in the 3A 300-meter hurdles during the IHSA State Track and Field Finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston on Saturday, May 20, 2023.

Evans, meanwhile, not only appreciates Hayden’s talent, but also her work ethic.

“As far as her work habits, she is one of the hardest working athletes,” Evans said. “She is always trying to work on becoming a better athlete. She trains year-round and is always trying to improve her knowledge and experience of the hurdles since it is such a technical race.

“Kyra is a great kid to have on the team and one of our captains who a lot of the kids look up to. She is very encouraging to her fellow teammates and always displays a lot of spirit. She will go all out cheering for her team, dressing up on spirit days, just as hard as she trains and leads by example on a daily basis. She is always dialed in and very focused, which I think often times sets the tone for her training group.”

During the summer, she trains with Tom Nelson Training in Mount Prospect, which is more than an hour away. Her mother, Tamaeera Lodge, drives her back and forth. Hayden said it was tough after her freshman year, when she suffered a knee injury, to find someone who wanted to train her, but her mother helped immensely.

“At TNT, we compete against each other during the week and we go to meets on the weekends,” she said. “We go all over for the meets.”

With her senior season coming up next year, Hayden is looking forward to ending her Griffins career on a high note. She finished fourth at state in the 300 hurdles as a sophomore with a time of 45 seconds flat before taking third this year with a personal-best time of 43.81, which is just shy of the school record of 43.41 set by Alexis Pierre-Antoine in 2016.

She crashed into a hurdle near the end of the preliminary race in the 100 hurdles this season and led off the championship 4x400 relay with a time of 58.4, which allowed her team to be the first to exchange and put the team in first after the first exchange. She and teammates Jumi Aremu (a junior), Nora Keane (freshman) and Alaina Steele (freshman.) won with a time of 3:50.73, which was a season best and just behind the school record of 3:49.84, also set in 2016.

“We are very excited to see what Kyra will do in her final high school season,” Evans said. “Especially with those school records in reach.”