WALKER –The thought, even four years later, seems unimaginable to Walker High’s Kaye-Loni Bowden.
Just where would she be without cross country?
“I would have never expected to be in this position,” Bowden said Tuesday morning after signing with UL-Monroe, where she’ll continue her cross country career. “I’m very thankful for it. I was thinking the other day that I don’t know where I would be right now if it wasn’t running. I wouldn’t be the same because it’s such a big part of who I am now.”
To those who have followed her running career, Bowden is only more identifiable by her red hair and personable smile.
Bowden leaves Walker with the school’s third-fastest three-mile time (18 minutes, 57 seconds), three All-Parish selections and a two-time top-20 finisher in the Division I state meet.
Moreover, Bowden’s a 4.0 student with plans to major in Pre-Med in college.
“I like to do the best I can,” said Bowden, outfitted in a white ULM shirt amongst family, coaches and classmates. “I don’t want to ever have to look back and say that I could have done better. I like to push myself as much as I can.”
Bowden was a running novice four years ago, showing up at Walker High with more of a background as a swimmer, which she did for two years under coach Kevin Fambrough.
It wasn’t until Walker’s veteran track/cross country coach Will Silk noticed Bowden in his physical education class and the determination she displayed in preparing to run a mile.
Silk wasn’t blown away by her time, but by Bowden’s approach and asked her to join the school’s cross country team.
She’s been a fixture ever since.
“I wanted to run but didn’t think I’d ever be good at it and initially didn’t sign up for the team,” Bowden said. “I figured since he asked me to come out, that I must be actually good enough to do it. That was the push that I needed.”
Said Silk, “We found out real quick that she’s a worker. She has a great work ethic.”
Bowden continued to swim, working out in the mornings and training with the cross country team after school. That continued to two years until she decided to focus solely on running over her final two years.
“I remember her driving back from Baton Rouge and I asked her how much did she swim that day,” Silk recalled. “She said, ‘3,000 meters’. I said why don’t you sit this workout out, but she didn’t want to. She was very dedicated.”
Before the start of her junior season, Silk provided Bowden with a road map to truly jump-start her career that called for a weekly routine of running 40 miles.
“I thought that was a lot,” she said. “He told me just to work my way up to it, and I did. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
The true catalyst in turning Bowden’s attention to running in college took place in her first meet as a junior.
With a modest goal of 21 minutes going into her first meet of that season, Bowden ran 19:37 and was convinced better days were ahead.
“After that,” she said, “I thought I could probably actually do that.”
Bowden won her first Livingston Parish championship in 2017 and was 14th at regionals and 18th at the state meet.
This past season Bowden, a member of the Academic All-State cross country team, was third at the parish meet despite being under the weather.
She followed that with a 12th place at regionals and overcame treacherous conditions at the state meet in Natchitoches to place a very respectable 14th – the highest finisher among parish competitors.
“I told myself if I did well (there) that nobody would be able to take it away from me,” Bowden said of the cold and muddy course at Northwestern State. “I’ll have that. That’s all I thought about and that was to finish strong.”