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The five-year journey: faith-filled Kylahn blessed by extended time as a Bulldog

By Jacob Knabel on Oct. 12, 2023 in Cross Country

Kylahn (Heritage) Freiberg knew her schedule was going to be crazy. By day, she works as a paraprofessional educator at Seward Middle School and as a graduate assistant within Concordia’s Academic Resource Center. Once those duties are fulfilled each day, Kylahn makes her way to cross country practice, committed to a demanding regimen she must follow if she’s to compete with the other elite athletes regionally and nationally.

Oh yeah, Kylahn is also married and makes time for husband Marc, a hometown Seward native and member of the Bulldog track team. Kylahn doesn’t live the life of a typical Concordia student-athlete, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What makes me the happiest I returned was hands down the unforgettable experiences I get to share with my teammates and having Coach (Matt) Beisel as a coach for one more year,” Kylahn said. “There have been many times when I’ve been grateful for this opportunity — on bus rides, at practice, team meetings, in the cafeteria and outside of cross country — when I’ve felt at home with my team as my second family. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the new freshmen this year and the chance to continue to live in the friendly community of Seward.”

This is year five for Freiberg as a Concordia Bulldog distance runner. Way back in the fall of 2019 (okay, it wasn’t really that long ago), she arrived in Seward via her hometown of Nampa, Idaho. She immediately helped the Bulldogs to a team GPAC cross country title and has contributed significantly to the string of conference championships in track & field. All of the special moments, which go beyond the trophies, influenced Freiberg to opt for one last dance.

Over spring break 2023, Kylahn called Coach Beisel to let him know she wanted to return in 2023-24 and use her ‘COVID year’ of eligibility. Beisel called her decision “gigantic” in terms of what it would mean for the program. The Bulldogs would be bringing back someone who was a previous GPAC cross country runner up and national qualifier and a four-time All-American in track & field. For Beisel and Kylahn, the meaning is deeper than the accolades. The two have formed a special coach-athlete bond over these years of toil, struggle, anguish and also joy. They’ve been through it together.

When injuries threatened to hamstring Kylahn’s running career, the two worked together to find a plan that worked. It turned out that lower mileage and more cross training was necessary, rather than logging 30-plus mile weeks. That whole process has been a key to Kylahn’s success and stands as one of the aspects of her career that have made the coach-athlete relationship a special one.

Said Beisel, “The first time we talked on the phone it was for a couple of hours. We really hit it off and I think she realized this is the place she needed to be. She’s grown so much and matured in many ways. She’s been through some hard stuff at times both athletically and otherwise. I’m very grateful to have been there with her, and I know she’s made me a better person. She and I are very much alike and really understand each other.

“She’s one of those people who cares deeply for their team. She has a great desire in her heart to see her teammates be successful as a family. Over time, we’ve learned to manage the way she trains and how sensitive her body is to certain things. She learned how to do a lot of physical therapy and band exercises. She’s really smart about listening to her body.”

The relationship between Kylahn and Coach Beisel goes back to Kylahn’s recruitment. Beisel had found her name via the Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) website and made the initial contact. Upon her first visit to Concordia, Kylahn could already feel it. This was the place for her. As she recalled, “There was just a sense of belonging there. Everyone wanted me to be there, and they treated me like family before they even knew me.”

Kylahn liked how Concordia encouraged her to share her faith, something that is quite obviously a major aspect of her life. Throughout her time as a Bulldog, she’s actively engaged teammates in prayer and Bible Study. An influential figure in the lives of her teammates, Kylahn serves as a captain for a cross country squad with hopes of capturing another GPAC title this fall. Says Kylahn, “Most of all, I want to bring Christ into the center of everything we do.”

The approach has worked for Kylahn, who has persevered through the injuries that caused frustration as a sophomore and junior. In the team’s most recent outing, at the Briar Cliff Invite, she placed fifth overall while running a 6k time of 21:40.12. She’s looking a lot like the runner she was in 2019 when she nearly claimed All-America honors. She sets the pace for a team with up-and-coming freshmen like Keeli Green and Alayna Vargas. Those bonds continue to grow along with the ones she shares with fellow veterans like Julie McIntyre (who is also married), as well as Coach Beisel’s daughter Keegan.

“A lot of people came to my house to celebrate my birthday with me and play games, and many of my teammates have been there to support me through the tough times of this year as well, especially Coach Beisel,” Kylahn said. “I feel like I’ve also grown closer to God these last few months by trusting in His plan for me – even though most of it still remains unknown to me – and being united in Christ with the team. Overall, I couldn’t be happier to be here with new opportunities to share the Gospel with others and be a part of this Christ-like community.”

No doubt proud of her Idaho roots, Kylahn says she appreciates the lower elevation and the lack of forest fires in this part of the country. This is where she found her second home, her husband and lifelong friendships. Those dynamics have made the championships (including the seven team titles she’s been part of in track) that much sweeter. For Kylahn, the GPAC cross country team championship of 2019 will always be memorable.

“We’ve definitely had a lot, so it’s hard to pick just one,” Kylahn said. “I’ll never forget my freshman year when we weren’t expected to do as well as we did at conference. If I’m being honest, I remember we were expected to get second. When they were calling out the teams and they said the team in second that we were expecting to get first, everyone was like, ‘Woah!’ Then we realized we were the ones who got first. It was such a come to God moment. We did this together, but God was at the center of it all.”

Currently a master’s student in Curriculum Instruction (concentration in trauma and resilience), Kylahn says she’s been surprised herself how well this fall has gone. She’s allowed herself to relax and not focus on times or results. In year five, despite the stringent demands, Kylahn has felt refreshed as the captain of a team ranked No. 8 in the NAIA. She looks forward to leading Concordia back to the national meet in Fort Vancouver, Wash., in November.

Beisel knows she’ll set the right example. Said Beisel, “She’s been doing the things captains do for years now – building relationships and checking in on incoming freshmen. I just love hearing her thoughts on things. Her leadership has meant a ton to our program.”

In explaining the ‘why’ in returning for a fifth year, Kylahn said, “There were some times last year, before I knew I was coming back for a fifth year, where I was ready to be done. It comes down to the fact that I’ve already done so much in the past and I only get one more chance. Knowing that makes me want to continue seeing how much better I can get. Coming into this year, I wanted my focus to be on being a good teammate and what we can do as a team. I’m still going to do the things that I need to do, but overall I just want to be a servant and a leader for my teammates. That’s what helps me come to practice every day, just knowing I’ll be there with my teammates.”