Health Challenges Can't Ground Dobies

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

May 18, 2016

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/ 

Finals Title Next Step for Versatile Swan Valley Record-Breaker Kuhn

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 22, 2024

Sydney Kuhn’s habit for smashing school records at Saginaw Swan Valley has forced the track & field program to start taking cost-cutting measures.

Bay & Thumb“We stopped changing out the records on our record board,” Swan Valley coach Dave Dawson said. “We just figured, she has another year and she’ll break it again, so we figured we’re going to save money this way.”

Kuhn, a junior, owns the school records in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 meters. She also has the program record in 60 meters, an indoor track event. She’s run the school’s second-fastest 300 hurdles time, and one of the top five 100-meter times. The 1,600-meter relay team she’s part of with Mackenzie Morgan, Grace Spear and Mackenzie Powell is close to setting a record, as well, and has qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on June 1.

“Her ninth-grade year, everybody knew, depending on what happens and her attitude, they knew she could be something special. There was potential there,” Dawson said. “Lauren Huebner, she graduated in 2016 and went to SVSU and was a two-time Division II national champion, she had eight records on the board. Sydney feeds off that. Especially now that Lauren is helping coach, she’s definitely been pivotal in this.”

Kuhn qualified for the Finals in the three events she ran at last week’s Regional: the 200, 400 and 1,600 relay. She will be the No. 1 seed in the 400, and has run the fastest time in the state regardless of division, at 55.11 seconds. She’s the No. 2 seed in the 200, where her personal best of 24.89 is the fifth-fastest time in the state this year, regardless of division. She finished third and sixth, respectively, at the Finals in the events a year ago.

“I feel good,” Kuhn said. “I’m just getting ready. It’s been a good year, it’s been going smoothly. The 400 looks pretty good, and the 200 there will be some good competition. Freshman year, I got fifth, then third (as a sophomore) in the 400, so hopefully this year is first.”

She did not run the 800 at the Regional, as it was decided it was too close in the meet order to her other events. She’s run 2:12.75 in the event, the fourth-fastest time recorded in the state this season.

That could be where she has the most potential, however, as it’s a race she had never run competitively until her sophomore season. The first time she ran it in a varsity meet, she recorded a 2:21, setting the school record.

Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth.“(Coach) Andrew Wendler put a bug in her ear, ‘If you’re running this fast in the 400, think of what your 800 would be,’” Dawson said. “She says, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it.’ So, in one of our first conference meets, she ran against a girl that’s pretty good in the 800 and we just said to follow her – stick with her and see what you can do. With 200 meters left, she just took off and broke the school record the first time she ran it.”

A year later, they tried the same thing with the 1,600. And again, Kuhn responded by running 5:12.73 in her first try, setting the school record. She’s since run 5:06.45.

“The first time I ran the 800, I ran against Mary Richmond from Frankenmuth who is really fast, and I sort of paced behind her the first 400, then the last 300 I took off. Same thing with the 1,600. I felt like staying behind her, I wasn’t really racing, so I could just go, I thought.”

Richmond is a three-time all-state finisher in both the 1,600 and the 3,200, as well as a four-time all-state cross country runner. 

With Kuhn’s instant success in every race she’s tried, the logical next question is, what about the 3,200?

“My coach mentioned that,” Kuhn said with a laugh. “But I usually just shake my head. You never know.”

There is a real question, however, about what event, or events, Kuhn is best suited for moving forward. She said that she would like to shift some focus to the 800 for her senior year, and several college coaches who have been in contact with her have indicated that’s where she could land.

“The pattern typically is they would probably turn her into a half-miler or a miler,” Dawson said. “Some college coaches want her for the heptathlon with her hurdle experience, and she is not a stranger to the weight room. That’s the fun part about this, she tries something and it’s usually pretty fun. It’s usually a positive experience.”

Kuhn is ready for whatever is thrown at her.

“They’re mostly like 800, 1,500, those types of races,” she said. “Some of them just say whatever you like best. One coach mentioned the steeplechase – I don’t know about that. One coach did mention (heptathlon). I’d be open to whatever is best.”

While she’s taken some unofficial visits, she said she’s in no hurry to choose a college. Her focus remains on winning a Finals title at Swan Valley, and a series of times she’s set as goals for herself: 24.4, 54.9, 2:09.9, 4:59.9.

They’re all saved on her phone screen, where they’re easy to change as she reaches them. And at no cost.

“Every time I look at my phone, I see the times I want to get,” she said. “I’ve changed my screen saver a lot when I do break it.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Saginaw Swan Valley’s Sydney Kuhn runs toward the finish during the Korf/Schultz Saginaw County Invitational on May 10 at Hemlock. (Middle) Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth. (Photos by Eagle Eye Photography.)