Dupo track member wins race to remember

Dupo’s Kayla Hardin (left) poses with her coach and longtime P.E. teacher Kevin Acra after winning her first 100-meter race. (submitted photos)

If you are involved with Dupo High School, chances are you know Kayla Hardin. She is described as outgoing, asking people for hugs as she walks and talks through the school’s halls.

“Her memory is great. She remembers everybody’s names and how she knows people,” Kayla’s longtime P.E. teacher Kevin Acra described her.  “She’s funny, just good to me.”

This year he asked Hardin to join the track team and recruited her to run the 100-meter.

“I had her in P.E. class and I like Kayla, and I thought it would be neat to get her out there and get her a varsity letter before she graduates,” Acra said.

The close of her senior year of high school at Dupo has been memorable for Hardin–going to the prom, graduating in the Class of 2013 and becoming the first Dupo High School student with Down syndrome to run track.

“I’m kind of nervous a little bit,” Hardin told the Republic-Times the day of her high school graduation. But she said she was also nervous the day of her first 100-meter race in early May.

“But then I was happy.”

Hardin participated in a track meet for the first time, wearing her maroon and white uniform.

“She was so excited. She practiced,” Acra said, with Hardin adding that she prepped and did stretches before the starting line.

“Then when she lined up at the track meet and a couple of girls from the other schools requested to run against her,” Dupo Athletic Director Kraig Roth said. “The whole idea was for her to enjoy competition, that all of us former athletes love so much. And we thought that would be enough.

DHS track athlete Kayla Hardin (second from left) poses with 100-meter dash opponents, from left, Kayla Juelfs, Paige Buechele and Jody Kenner.

“But what we didn’t know was that the three ladies that ran 40:58 PM against her thought it would be better for her to win.”

Some of the area’s top sprinters in Red Bud’s Kayla Juelfs, Paige Buechele from Lebanon and Hardin’s teammate, Jody Kenner, all opted to take a career loss for Hardin.

“There were not many dry eyes, I can tell you that,” Roth said.

“She was waving to the crowd,” Acra described Kayla as she ran the race. “I was so proud of her.”

Hardin ran her first complete 100-meter race, coming in first place with a time of 44 seconds.

“He wants me to be proud of myself,” Hardin said of Acra. “He’s so special because he let me run on the track.

“He is the most special friend ever.”

She was proud to go up to her coach, who has meant so much to her since she first had him in grade school, after she won.

“She came up and got a picture with me and told me she won, and that she was going to go get a soda,” Acra said with a laugh.

A day that began with intentions to just give one girl a shot at running a race at the Dupo High School track, turned into a memory that few who were there could ever forget.

“My job as a teacher, as a coach, is to say ‘What can I present these kids with to take with them to the future,’” Acra said. “I just hope this is one of those moments.”

It was a moment that Hardin will always remember, especially once she gets her varsity letter.

“It’s going to be amazing,” she said.

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