MACOMB TOWNSHIP – Look at Kayla Dobies and one can see a vibrant young woman with an engaging personality that locks on to those around her.
Look at Dobies’ accomplishments, athletically and academically, and one will marvel at her ingenuity and perseverance.
Hidden are ailments that would prevent a lesser person from achievements that flow from Dobies in a variety of forms.
Dobies, 18, is a senior at Macomb Dakota and has been accepted to Princeton University. In addition to her studies, Dobies plans on competing collegiately in cross country and track and field. The high jump is her best event – her best is a jump of 5 feet, 7 inches. But she is also a fine distance runner. Dobies placed eighth in Lower Peninsula Division 1 her freshman season in the high jump and was all-state again her junior season as she placed fourth in the 800-meter run.
Her best cross country time is 18:27, a school record. She qualified for the MHSAA Finals in cross country her junior and senior seasons but failed to place. The reasons will become obvious later.
For six years she practiced taekwondo and holds a first and second degree black belt in the sport.
As a junior she started a robotics team at Dakota, but did not compete. Although Dakota did not fare well in the state competition this year, the team competed at the world championships, a four-day event held in late April, in St. Louis, and won. The name of the team is the Thunder Chickens, and among Dobies’ responsibilities was as an assistant mechanic. When one of the machines broke down, she would assist in fixing it, thus earning the nickname, ‘Baby Chicken’.
Dobies has a 4.07 grade-point average entering her final semester and scored a 33 on her ACT. She was named a winner this winter of the MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Award and was one of six finalists for the recently-awarded Detroit Athletic Club Female High School Athlete of the Year.
She plans on entering the pre-med program at Princeton and possibly majoring in neuroscience.
As impressive as is her list of accomplishments, Dobies often has had to miss competing because of her illnesses. Every day Dobies confronts them. She tries to hold them off with daily medication, and sometimes even that doesn’t work.
Topping this list, Dobies is an asthmatic. Offshoots are the allergies from which she suffers. She’s also anemic and suffers from hypoglycemia, a blood sugar disorder. She can’t eat candy. She can only consume pure sugar. And she can’t eat fast food or pizza, or other like fatty foods because of their trans-fatty acids.
It’s the pizza part that upsets Dobies most, even as that seems like one of the lesser obstacles she continuously must hurdle.
“I have every type of asthma you can imagine,” she said. “I use a breathing machine at night and two inhalers every day. I get allergy shots. I’m allergic to mites. I have to have special sheets on my bed to help prevent an attack.”
The attacks continue to occur. The reason she did not compete in robotics her junior year was her health. Most days, Dobies is fine. The medication she takes helps combat her diseases, but it’s not foolproof. When the seasons change, Dobies suffers most.
A leg injury kept Dobies from possibly making all-state in cross country her junior year, and this past November she suffered an asthma attack at the MHSAA Finals. Though cross country and running in general is one of her favorite sports, fall changing to winter is the worst season for Dobies.
“When others are improving their times, my times get worse,” she said. “I was in the hospital a couple of days during the cross country season. When I have an asthma attack, it’s not fun.”
Because of her condition, Dobies prefers to run in warm weather – the hotter the better. That’s why she’s hoping for warm weather, at least warmer weather, Saturday when Dakota competes at the Division 1 Track & Field regional at Warren Mott.
The spring didn't start well for Dobies. She suffered a pulled quadriceps (right leg) in the first meet of the season, and it wasn’t until three weeks ago that she could run the way she knows she can.
“I’m better now,” she said. “I’ve just got to get my times to drop.”
No one will doubt that she will. Dobies has always been highly motivated. This comes from her parents, Jeff and Jody Dobies, and she’s received a push from others including Dakota assistant track coach Tom Zarzycki. Jeff Dobies introduced his eldest daughter to soccer when she was 2 years old, and sports has been a big part of her life ever since.
“I watched the Olympics at Beijing and I saw the high jump,” she said. “I said, I can do that. So I asked my dad, what’s that? And he told me it was the high jump.”
Ever the inquisitive child, Dobies was inspired after viewing the Disney animated film “Mulan” to try martial arts.
“I’ve always liked sports,” she said. “I’m really, really passionate about everything. Take robotics and martial arts. I figure if you’re going to do something, do your best.
“Like running. I love to run. High jump is the reason I got into running. It gets down to a deep level. I just love running. I love running with my friends. I love running to compete.”
Whatever the task, whatever the challenge, anything Dobies dives into she gives it her best.
Her most recent project is experimenting with rats. It’s a class project, one she must complete to earn a grade. What she’s attempting to prove, with the aid of the rats, is that fear is innate.
“I’m still working on it,” she said. “I don’t expect to change the world.”
But she might.
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Macomb Dakota's Kayla Dobies (14) rounds the bend ahead of three competitors during the 800 at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final. (Middle) Dobies stands with other Scholar-Athlete Award winners in March at the Breslin Center. (Top photo by Carter Sherline/RunMichigan.com.)
BLISSFIELD – Last fall, June Miller raced for an MHSAA cross country title at Michigan International Speedway. During the winter she played in the Division 3 Basketball Final at the Breslin Center. In the spring, she competed at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track & field championships in Kent City.
As she embarks on her senior year at Blissfield Community Schools in southeast Michigan, Miller isn’t concerned about an encore.
“I don’t worry about topping my junior season,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to. I’ll fight for it to the best of my ability, but if I don’t make it that’s okay. There were a lot of factors that went into last year, and I can’t control all of them this year.
“I’ll leave my best out there and know that I gave it my all, and in the end that’s the true accomplishment. If it takes me that far or further, then great. If not, that’s okay.”
Miller’s remarkable run to MHSAA Finals in three sports remains even more impressive when considering she had eight goals and five assists playing defense for the Royals soccer team.
“Shows up to work, busts her tail every practice, every game,” said Blissfield girls basketball coach Ryan Gilbert. “Never have to worry about June Miller.”
Miller is as steady an athlete as they come, never getting too high or too low in pressure situations. In basketball, Gilbert said Miller never met a shot she didn’t like. Miller started all 29 games last season, leading the team in 3-pointers.
Gilbert said Miller is even-keeled.
“It takes a while to get into the ‘June Miller circle,’ but I’m almost in,” he said. “This is her senior year; this is my year. She’s very funny when you get to know her and has a brilliant mind.
“She wants to win over everything,” Gilbert said.
Miller wasn’t the fastest runner on the cross country team last fall – that spot would belong to her younger sister, Hope. June has no problem with that.
“I love running with my sister,” she said. “She’s an amazing and incredibly kind person. Her dedication to running inspires me and keeps me fighting for it. We train together sometimes and she’s the one that pushes me, and I love that.
“I always knew she’d be faster than me someday, and I couldn’t be prouder of how fast she’s become and how much she’s achieved. (People might) think I’d hold some resentment for her beating me while I’m older, but she’s lived in my shadow for years and I’m so glad she’s been able to find her place that she can dominate.”
Blissfield is eyeing a big season in cross country after winning a Regional and just missing the top 10 at the Final a year ago. The Miller sisters are a big reason for the giddiness.
“I’m ready to leave it all out there,” Miller said. “It’s my senior season, and I want to go out strong. I think the end goal for all of us is to really push it this season and improve with each race so by the time we hit Regionals we’re in the best shape physically and mentally so we can leave it all on the course to get to states again.”
Because of her work schedule this summer, Miller missed some of the team workouts but was able to get the details from her sister and went out on her own time and trained to build up her mileage in preparation for the season.
“I think the experience from last year will give us something to fight for,” she said. “It allows us to look at the season with our end goal being the state meet. It gives us a passion and something to fight for.”
Blissfield cross country coach Ryan Bills called Miller a strong competitor.
“She is fun kid,” he said. “You never know which June you’re going to get – funny, chatty June or serious, no-nonsense June. Either way she always gives it her all during competition, which is why she has seen so much success the past year.”
The four-sport athlete spent the first couple of weeks of summer refreshing her body before kicking it into high gear.
She did take some time to reflect on all the places she got to play and compete last year and is grateful to be part of a team that helped her reach those places.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “When I’m playing basketball or running track and cross country, I’m not focused on where I am physically – instead I’m in my head focused on what I need to do.
“Once you get to someplace, you stop thinking about getting there and you move on to the next step of being there and doing what you need to there.”
Miller is one of the top students in her class. She’s currently trying to decide whether she wants to pursue playing soccer in college. She wants to major in business and minor in sustainability, eventually getting a master’s degree in architecture.
“I want to be a sustainable design architect,” she said, “who can better the world through the art of architecture.”
Miller’s future looks bright, as does the outlook for this athletic year. In all three sports for which she reached the Finals last year, the Royals have enough returning talent to make lengthy runs again.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Miller said, about four days before the first cross country event of the season. “I want to make it to all those state tournaments again, but I want to do it with my teammates because they’re the ones that make it memorable and something to remember forever.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s June Miller (750) races during a cross country meet last fall. (Middle) Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run. (Cross country photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; basketball photo by Gary Sullivan.)