Kayla Casaletto overcame a surprise challenger to help the Cedarville University men’s and women’s teams sweep the National Christian College Athletic Association’s national cross country championships at Houghton, N.Y., this past weekend.
Surrounded by mountains but otherwise running on a flat and mostly unobstructed 5K course, Kayla was blindsided by a deer while on a 400-meter loop in the woods.
“The trees and bushes started shaking,” she recalled Monday after returning to Cedarville’s campus. “There were these loud like crunching noises. We were thinking, what is that? Then this deer just blazes out of the forest and I had no time to think. It ran straight into my legs and knocked me over.”
This was a little more than a half mile into the race. By then runners had scattered and were locked into single file for the loop. A couple teammates were about 20 feet ahead and heard “a thump” and laughter but didn’t see the sudden impact. An opposing runner closely trailed Kayla.
“She was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, are you OK?’ ” Kayla said. “I said I was fine. I’m laughing. I said this is going to make a great story. And then I beat her.”
Kayla said she was knocked down but quickly recovered. “It took out my legs and I fell on my side in the mud,” she said.
She described the deer as “soft, small and ugly. It was really scared and was running with its head between its legs. Its back was probably only 3.5 feet off the ground. It was a pretty young one. I would have been in a lot more pain if it had been a buck.”
Spectators reported seeing deer on other parts of the 3.1-mile course. Kayla, from Goshen, Ind., finished fourth among teammates in 18 minutes, 41 seconds. Also figuring in Cedarville’s scoring were Carsyn Koch (17:53), Olivia Esbenshade (17:56), Hailey Bredeson (18:34) and Kathryn Sill (18:51). Cedarville edged Oklahoma Baptist 44-45.
Cedarville beat runner-up Roberts Wesleyan (N.Y.) 61-68 to win the men’s title and was paced by Daniel Michalski (25:33).
After finishing, teammates and astonished spectators marveled at Kayla’s close encounter. “They kept singing Kayla got ran over by a reindeer for like an hour straight,” she said.