All photos provided by Kayla Jeter.
by Lee Edwards, For the Chicago Defender
Wellness entrepreneur and personal trainer Kayla Jeter is discovering a new purpose in her personal and professional life as she begins her journey as a marathon runner.
The Solon, Ohio native is a multi-hyphenated superstar with a background as a mindset and stress management coach and founder of #100milesofSummer and Soho House Chicago Run Club. She is also a Lululemon global ambassador.
Yet, before forging her unique path in Chicago’s crowded professional health, fitness and wellness community, Jeter resigned from her job as an assistant volleyball coach at the University of Cincinnati to be a caregiver to her mother, Leslie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012.
Jeter took the coaching position after playing a season for LP Kangasala, a professional volleyball team in Finland, after which she ultimately decided to retire at age 23. Before retiring, Jeter was a standout outside hitter at the University of Tennessee, earning All-SEC honors in 2009 and 2010. She was also regarded as one of the best players in Ohio during her prep career at Solon High School.
“It was really tough to leave the team and to leave the career and the life I built in Cincinnati, but I knew there’s no better gift than to be there for your parents and love them and take care of them the way they’ve taken care of you,” Jeter told The Defender in an Oct. 24 interview.
Before her mother’s transition in June 2019 due to complications caused by breast cancer, Jeter switched between living in Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago on multiple occasions. Jeter would eventually move back to Chicago by 2020.
“I remember she said to me, ‘Kayla if you stay in Cleveland forever, you’ll resent me. So, if you feel like you are ready to go, I think you should go,’” said Jeter.
“I love Cleveland with all my heart. It will forever be home. But I am a city girl. My mom was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, New York. So, I’d spent tons of time in New York, and I just wanted more. So, Chicago was really attractive to me,” said Jeter.
For Jeter, moving to Chicago and transitioning to a non-volleyball-related view of athletics came with a mindset change. She found gyms and trainers specializing in movement in everyday life as her focus. She also centered her interest around living a healthy lifestyle free from chronic illnesses.
“I pursue every day with the lens of the sport of life,” said Jeter. “Although I’m not competing at a high level, I still want to function and operate in my day-to-day at a high level, something as simple as getting off the floor to putting something away in a high cabinet. I do want to have the power and the ability to get out of the way of a car that maybe blows a stoplight, which is a power development.”
Her Latest Challenge
For her latest fitness challenge, Jeter has become a marathon runner. So far, she has run in the London Marathon in April, the Berlin Marathon in September, and the New York Marathon on Nov. 5 — three of the six World Major marathons (The other three are Chicago, Tokyo and Boston). Jeter said she ran the Berlin Marathon in three hours and 47 minutes, a personal best.
Jeter selected the marathons she would run based on a variety of factors. A friend of hers invited her to run in the London marathon. She was part of a fundraising team with St. Jude Children’s Hospital for the Berlin marathon.
As for New York, it’s the place she has always felt connected to because it was her mother’s hometown. Her father, Gary, played for the New England Patriots and the New York Giants football teams.
“Although I’m born and raised in Solon, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, New York is very much home,” said Jeter. “The New York City Marathon will actually be my first stateside marathon, which is a little bit of a flex, but it’s fun.”
To train for a marathon, Jeter said she blends running and strength training to reduce the risk of injury. She shared her workout schedule with The Defender.
Monday is a combination of heavy weightlifting and long running. Tuesday is speed-based running or shorter strides within the framework of a longer run. Wednesday is another strength training day, and Thursday is a light running day. Friday is a long-distance run day. Saturday is an active recovery day with a walk or bike ride, and Sunday is for jogging.
“It’s really about building time on my feet just because I’m still new to the sport,” said Jeter.
“My coach shared with me that most runners, even at a recreational level, don’t reap the longer-term benefits of their training for about six years, especially if you’re going for speed just because it takes so much time to build up that tissue tolerance and being on your feet.”
“Coming from a sport we’re running with us as punishment, which I think is the case for many. It’s taken some time for me to find the joy in running,” said Jeter, “Through my challenge, #100milesofSummer, I’ve been able to redefine what that looks like. But training for a marathon. I explain it to people. It’s similar to being in a pie-eating contest, and the prize is pie.”
Changing the Marathon Landscape
#100milesofSummer is a challenge created by Jeter in 2018 where participants run-walk-jog 100 miles between May 1 and Aug. 31. She said the challenge has grown from 12 participants in its first year to over 260,000 from all over the world.
“It’s an inclusive challenge for people to use running as a catalyst to a healthier lifestyle,” said Jeter. “For me, it’s helped me transition especially during times like lockdown when a lot of people picked up running as a means of escape or exploration of just curiosity around what’s happening around in the world and in a space to process.
“So since then, and even when I was taking care of my mom, I would go run just to do something that felt natural, innate and automatic because my brain can’t work anymore. So, let’s just go move our legs. Running continues to be for me a space of exploration of inner and outer landscapes.”
Jeter said she draws power from the crowd while running marathons and thinks about her family. She said she wants to both disrupt and diversify while she runs.
“One of my positions in this landscape is to disrupt into diversify, to break up homogeneous spaces, not only to increase representation, but to be an example of what’s possible, and let other people who look like me, male or female, however, you identify, that there is space for you here and we are welcome, and there is we can take up space,” she said.