Though she had made the 11-hour drive from Alamosa, Colorado, to Southeast Kansas several times before, there was a different feeling this time around for Kaylee Bogina.

A junior at Adams State University, Bogina, a member of the Grizzlies’ women’s track and field team, was returning home on a mission with her teammates to compete in the weekend-long NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field National Championships on the campus of Pittsburg State University.

“This was the place where it all started for me,” Bogina said. “Getting to come back home and be with the same support group that helped me chase and follow my dreams every step of the way, I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”

Bogina was a celebrated multi-sport athlete during her prep career with the Northeast Vikings in Arma, Kansas, from 2011-15. Though she was a standout performer on her high school basketball team and was an all-league performer in volleyball her freshman year, Bogina’s true passion, inspired by her family, was long-distance running. Bogina went on to capture five state titles between cross country and track and field while at NHS, running under the tutelage of her aunt and coach, Piper Richardson, the athletic director at Northeast.

“It was so fun and exciting to get to watch her grow as a runner,” Richardson said. “She was just this little bitty girl who did everything she could to be a successful distance runner. She is a very confident person who does things the right way. Everything she does, she puts a full effort into. I had no doubt she would be successful in college.”

That success in high school was parlayed into a college scholarship at one of the strongest competitive running programs in all of DII athletics at Adams State University, which has more than 20 national championships combined between women’s cross country and track and field.

LEAVING HOME

Of course, growing up and spending most of your life in a small Kansas town led to a fear of change for Bogina. She sought support from her mother, Tracey, a former all-american distance runner for Pittsburg State and girl’s track and cross country coach at Fort Scott High School.

“Leaving home was really hard,” Bogina said. “The support was there. My family and friends were there. It’s where my dreams started. I remember telling my mom how scared I was of failure the night before I moved to Alamosa. She asked me, ‘What does failure mean?’ and that was such a huge statement to me. I went to Adams State with a hope and a dream. I couldn't fail because I had so much support behind me.”

It was tough acclimating herself to collegiate athletics, particularly in Alamosa, which is more than 7,500 feet above sea level. Unlike high school, Bogina focused solely on running at Adams State. It was now her job, which meant she had to intensify her training in ways she never could have imagined.

“In high school, it was more fun to see how fast you could run on very little training,” Bogina said. “I think I ran like 20 miles a week with a rest day in high school. Now, I run about 95 miles a week and run seven days a week. It’s more serious because I have a job to do, running is my job, essentially.”

Knowing she had a reliable support group back home, she often turned to her older brother, Austin, a member of the Pittsburg State men’s track and field and cross country teams from 2011-2016, for guidance in terms of navigating the ups and downs of balancing being a collegiate runner while growing into a young adult.

“She knows I had a really tough time transitioning at college, not really getting the times I wanted,” Austin Bogina said. “I just wanted her to really embrace her journey and appreciate all of it. I wanted to help her learn from mistakes I made, so she could just enjoy what she is experiencing because it will eventually pass. Any little bit of advice I can give her, I do.”

HOMECOMING

As the hours rolled by, Bogina’s excitement elevated the closer the team bus got to its intended destination. She was thrilled for the chance to perform in front of the people who helped her reach this point in her career, but Bogina was also looking forward to introducing her new family to the people who helped raise her.

After arriving in the middle of the week, Bogina invited several of her teammates from Adams State over to her childhood home for a family dinner on Thursday. It was something she never dreamed would happen.

“My parents had my cousin cater in some food and I watched my teammates from Jamaica, the Bahamas, Tanzania, Tasmania, Ireland and New Zealand have dinner with my family at my house. It was the most surreal thing. My dad (Greg), of course, went over the top to make sure everyone felt at home. It was amazing. My heart was so full that night.”

DREAMS DO COME TRUE

Bogina competed in the 5,000-meter run on Friday in the national championships and the 3,000 on Saturday. Though she didn’t earn individual all-america honors in either event, she didn’t allow that to take away from the experience of competing at one of the highest levels in collegiate running because Bogina didn’t choose to attend Adams State for individual accomplishments. She experienced enough of that in high school. She wanted to be a part of a successful program, a team of talented athletes she could share success and growth with.

“I have a second family that I would do anything in the world for,” she said of her teammates at Adams State. “They mean just as much to me as my family back home.”

The Grizzlies provided everything Bogina was looking for, as the Adams State women took home the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field National Championships team title on Saturday, giving Bogina a chance to celebrate one of the happiest moments of her life with nearly everyone who had an impact on the journey itself.

“Winning the team title at home in Pittsburg was truly a dream come true,” Bogina said. “Even though I wear a different color and name on my uniform, Pitt has always and will always be home. Winning the title with my teammates and coaches, in front of my family and friends, made all the time I spend away a little easier.”