ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The only woman from Texas competing in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Cross Country National Championship is right out of Clyde, Texas. This feat was nearly not doable for Kylah Holland.

Holland said she prides herself on being from Clyde. She loves the Lone Star State, even representing them with red, white and blue shoes to resemble the Texas flag.

Growing up a country girl, Holland said she loved being with and near her family, spending time with and riding horses. Most of all, though, she loved just running.

“I was running around like crazy ever since I could run,” Holland said. “Whenever I got into seventh grade, I loved track, so I knew what I was going to do.”

There are many similarities, according to Holland, between running and riding. Like the freedom you feel and at times, feeling like you’re flying. While nervous at first to hop on the massive animal, it’s the feeling of accomplishment that drove her to success. That’s what she felt the first time she stepped into her lane as a 12 or 13-year-old, about to run an 800-meter.

“I remember it was two laps, and I ran as fast as I could,” Holland recalled. “I felt like I was flying.”

Holland told KTAB/KRBC she tried out for both cross country and track in the eighth grade and has been running ever since. As her college years approached, she dreamt of staying near Clyde, but received an offer from West Texas A&M in Canyon to run. She couldn’t refuse, despite the nerves leaving home.

One August day, Holland would show up for class in Canyon and wouldn’t return to the Big Country until that Thanksgiving. Between the stresses of school and missing her family, she decided one year was long enough. However, after a rough first year of collegiate competition, it too, began to wear her down.

The always upbeat, dedicated and hard-working Holland said she felt defeated, leading her to one of the toughest decisions in her life, giving up her running career.

“I was just running to try to survive. Bad race after bad race,” Holland explained. “I took six months off from running completely after leaving WT. I kind of hated it at that point in my life. I didn’t want to run. I questioned myself, ‘why am I running? Why do I put myself through this?'”

In the midst of Holland’s break, she said she began to have nightmares, regretting the decision. She said she missed the long days, the tired legs and even the pain in her lungs after a long, hard run.

“I didn’t want the dream to slip away,” Holland reported.

Once this Clyde native started at Hardin-Simmons University (HSU), she said she began to see the progress she’d gained over the years, lighting that passion again.

It wasn’t without a little help, though. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Sydney Tencate, a former West Texas A&M student (also for one year only) and HSU record-holding cross country runner, continued her running casually after she graduated in 2019.

Tencate said she used the Strava app on her phone, allowing her to check her run times, calories burned and distance. She said you can even connect with friends, but she received an invitation from a stranger.

“She added me on Strava, and I was like, ‘who is this girl,’” Tencate questioned of her past self. “I saw she was from Clyde and had gone to West Texas A&M, so I reached back out.”

The two women accepted each other’s friend requests, but little did they know the unique relationship they were about to build. Right off the rip, Tencate knew Kylah Holland was different.

“I saw she ran six miles in her driveway, so I knew she was dedicated,” Tencate said in experience.

It was just a year later that they found their friendship had an unexpected twist. Sydney Tencate is the Assistant Cross Country and Track coach at HSU, while Kylah Holland was her athlete.

A unique bond to say the least, Tencate said she and Holland are able to keep their friendship strong while also having a professional coach-to-athlete relationship while training – even when Holland began breaking all of the records Tencate had set in her time as an HSU athlete.

“She got mad she finished first, because she didn’t beat my record by one second,” Tencate laughed. “I said, ‘Kylah, it’s ok,’ and she was like, ‘you get it for one more year.’ She obliterated it at regionals by 30 seconds the next week.”

Tencate told KTAB/KRBC she’s glad Holland has beat her records and wishes that for all of her athletes. She called meeting her a ‘godsend’ because of her dedication, work ethic and love for running.

Two different people with very similar paths to success, and they make the perfect pairing as friends, athletes, and competitors – pushing each other to be the best they can be.

“I didn’t think I was fast enough, but here I am now and I’m ready to see what I can do,” Holland said.

Holland even made herself the promise that if she qualified for the National Championship, she’d wear purple and yellow nails to represent HSU.

Now, both Holland and Tencate are preparing to board a flight to Michigan, wearing those purple and yellow nails, to compete in the NCAA national championship race.

She is the first ever single qualifier in Hardin-Simmons University history, finishing fifth and a qualifying time of 21:58 in the regionals.

You can cheer Kylah Holland on from home, as well. According to the NCAA, the women’s race will begin at 10:00 a.m. here in Texas and will be livestreamed with up-to-date statistics until the awards ceremony is finished. Click here to watch.