LONGMONT — Like most high school students, Skyline senior Kalen Niedling wakes up each day during the week and goes to school from the early morning through the afternoon.
After that, Niedling's schedule becomes a bit more hectic, even above what the typical student athlete's planner looks like.
Skyline track and field practice starts at 3 p.m. and Niedling has to be exceptionally efficient during her time with head coach James Davis and his crew. Around 4:15-4:30 p.m., Niedling jogs across Skyline campus and joins the soccer team for practice until 5:30 p.m., sometimes later if head coach Luis Chavez holds the team for extra work. Then it's straight home and into the ice bath for Niedling, every day without fail, before embarking on that night's homework load.
"They wanted me to run track my freshman and sophomore year and I said no because I thought it was going to be too much," Niedling said. "But I tried it out last year and I loved it too much not to do both. It's going to be a challenge against this season but I like to have a challenge. I'm not going to have it easy next year when I go to college so it's good to have things a little bit harder now. Sometimes it's exhausting and sometimes it's frustrating, but it's worth it."
Soccer is a slightly higher priority for Niedling, especially since that's the sport she will play at the University of Northern Colorado next season. The only time the disparity becomes truly obvious, though, is when Skyline' soccer team and track team both have official competitions on the same day. As the star forward that led the Falcons with 40 points — 16 goals, 8 assists — last season, Niedling must play the entire game for the soccer team and make it to whichever of her track and field events fit in around it depending on that day's meet schedule.
Last Saturday, for example, Niedling scored four goals in the Falcons soccer team's 11 a.m. home game against Mitchell before racing up north from Longmont to the Windsor Invitational, where she placed seventh in the 200-meter dash.
Niedling has former teammate Whitney Parkinson, who also did soccer and track as a senior last season, for convincing her to take on such a harrowing schedule. Her first run through the dual-sport gauntlet taught Niedling that perhaps the most critical piece of playing two sports at once is the extra physical maintenance required to sustain congruent seasons. Hence, the rigorous icing schedule that coincides with her training and, of course, homework.
"Oh yeah," Niedling said. "Even during early workouts for track in October, I had to ice every day so my muscles weren't sore constantly. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to then go perform at soccer practice. You really have to keep up with it."
In track and field, Niedling runs the 100- and 200-meter sprints, several relays and is adding the long jump this year. She was two tenths of a second away from qualifying for state in the 100 last spring, so qualifying in that event is her primary goal in 2018. She is pushing to also qualify in the 200. Though the local soccer teams know her well and deservedly show her plenty of extra defensive attention, Niedling also hopes to match last year's production on the pitch.
For coaches, Niedling's drive present its own challenges when it comes to sharing her time and collaborating on how to co-coach the overachieving senior.
"I'm not going to lie, sometimes it's tough because she's trying to manage both and sometimes she's tired," Chavez said. "She's pushing herself really, really hard. The track coaches and I feel like, 'You know what, if she wants to do it, we're not going to stop her.' We're not the type of program that tells athletes they have to do one or the other. It's her choice and we're proud of the fact that she's managing a 4.0 or above, she's great at track and she's great at soccer. What more could you ask for?"
Sometimes the coaches' responsibilities include saving Niedling from herself by stopping her from trying to do too much. Returning to Saturday's example, Niedling impressed Davis when she dove over the finish line in the 200-meter race while trying to run down one more runner down the stretch. The extra effort also caused the coach to cringe a little bit.
"She's a really mature person in general and that's what allows her to manage her time and listen to her body," Davis said. "But she's also one of our most competitive athletes, so sometimes it's up to me to manage that and try to rein her in so she doesn't get burnt out. Sometimes you see her doing things like diving over the finish line in the first week of the season after playing a soccer game that same day and you're like, "Kalen, good lord." But all joking aside, she really looked great this past weekend and she has phenomenal potential."
Of course, there are times when Niedling is simply too tired to do anything. Sundays are her off days so she tries to make the most of that precious rest and recovery time.
Even on the occasional Sunday, the desperate need for rest can't suppress Niedling's competitive nature and she often finds herself back out at the practice field getting in some extra shots with her father. She just can't stay away.