In the last four years, former Elkhart Christian High School athletic standout Kayla Casaletto has traveled all over the country, become a school-record holder in college and been on national television. 

"I'm back at home and now I have cell phone service," said Casaletto Wednesday after returning home from an 8,000 mile trip around the country." 

The 2015 ECA graduate went on camping and hiking trips with three of her best friends. Stops were made in Texas, Arizona, Utah, Montana, the Dakotas, New Mexico and Canada. 

"We drove my old blue minivan and barely survived," Casaletto said. "We pulled one all-nighter driving through Canada. Besides that, we slept pretty well. A family let us spend two days in their house. A lot of people helped us out along the trip. 

"The food was OK. We had pasta and rice for breakfast. A couple of times we cooked meals in our van while driving. We also cooked food outdoors. We added peanut butter and peppers to rice." 

Casaletto says that she got her love for the outdoors from her grandfather.

"When I was little he made me climb on rocks and stuff," Casaletto said.  "In high school, I went on a church wilderness trip to Canada and did some canoeing. 

"I'll be going on another church wilderness trip to Canada from July 19th to the 25th."

Casaletto also spent plenty of time outdoors as a track and cross country athlete at Cedarville University, in Cedarville, Ohio. 

One of her best showings came on May 9th as a senior at the North Central Invitational in Naperville, Illinois. She placed sixth in the 3,000 meter steeplechase with a school-record time of 10:39.68.

"Basically, I changed my strategy for that race," Casaletto said. "In my other races I tried to get splits per lap. I was slower in those races. At the North Central race, my dad gave me my times per lap. He told me I was five seconds away from the school-record with three laps left to go. I knew as soon as I finished the race that I broke the record.

"It's nice that I left a mark like that, but it was more important for me to be a positive influence on my teammates."

Casaletto got introduced to the steeplechase in college.

"I did a couple of 300-meter hurdle races in high school without training," Casaletto said. "I broke the school-record the first time I did the 300 hurdles. But going to a small school that wasn't really impressive. I really didn't do the hurdles until I did the steeplechase in college.

"It's mentally challenging to do the steeplechase. Your focus has to be to keep going fast because the barriers will slow you down."

Something else challenged Casaletto when she was a freshman cross country runner at Cedarville.

An incident at the NCCAA National Cross Country Championship in Houghton, New York earned Casaletto some national notoriety.

"I was running next to a girl from Oklahoma Baptist," Casaletto said. "I was looking over into the woods and I didn't know what I was looking at. Suddenly, a baby deer burst out into the forest. I was thinking that I should either completely put on the brakes or run and have it hit me. I ran and it ran in between my legs. I went down. I thought it was so funny. I couldn't believe a deer just hit me. Girls asked me if I was OK. I was fine. I didn't get hurt at all. It was a super small deer. It was so small that it didn't have spots on its back. I probably could have put my legs together and caught it." 

Many would soon learn about Casaletto's encounter with a deer. 

"I got a call from ESPN and they asked me if I minded if they ran the story," Casaletto said. "I asked them if they had a website. They said it was ESPN.com. I was so embarrassed I hung up. 

"I think someone from Cedarville and Runner's World (magazine) put it out there."

On November 17th, 2015, Casaletto was on television as part of "Bucci's Star" on ESPN's Sportscenter. That segment is named after ESPN anchor John Buccigross.

"I hear a lot of jokes because of that," Casaletto said. "People give me stuff with a deer on it."

Despite the scary meeting with the deer, Casaletto did pretty well in that cross country race. She finished 11th with a time of 18:41 and was named an NCCAA All-American. The Yellow Jackets were the team champion.  

Casaletto, who finished with a 3.3 grade-point average majoring in sports management, was very happy she made the decision to attend Cedarville. A school her parents also made a collegiate home.

"They never tried to get me to go there," Casaletto said. "I just liked it there. It's really pretty there.

"I loved college. I loved living in a hall with a bunch of people my age and talking to everyone. My classes were really good. My teachers were really invested. It was a good learning experience. I loved the Christian experience I had with the other students. I met a lot of special people that helped me grow into a better person."

When it comes to a career, expect Casaletto to work closely with kids.

"I really want to coach high school cross country," she said. "Another thing I'd like to do is to lead backpacking trips for kids who don't get out into nature." 

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