SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Before the sun even rises in the morning, Savannah State University’s (SSU) cross country team starts its day on the track.

After a few yawns, stretches, and warm-ups, it’s time to kick it into high gear, and nobody is more prepared than Kayla Chance.

“I’m extremely proud of myself because I wasn’t supposed to be here,” said Chance, a cross country and track and field athlete for SSU.

There’s nothing conventional about Chance’s route to success. After graduating from Jenkins High School in 2018, Chance decided to join the National Guard, but her service came with a price.

“A lot of colleges gave up on me,” Chance explained. “They realized I wasn’t coming for my entire freshman year. The day before I graduated from training, Coach Whitaker called me and said, ‘Do you still want to run?’ and that was one of the best days of my life.”

That’s when the door opened at SSU. During Chance’s freshman year, she placed eighth in the SIAC for cross country, but the good news would be short-lived after the pandemic shut the sports world down.

“It’s kind of hard being patient, but it’s worth it when you see the results,” Chance said.

The results came sooner rather than later. In Chance’s first meet post-pandemic, she won first place and set a school record, running a 5k in 18 minutes and 47 seconds.

“You don’t go from where she was to where she is unless that’s where she wants to be,” Ted Whitaker, SSU’s head coach for both cross country and track and field.

Currently, Chance holds three records at Savannah State, and she is not letting off the gas anytime soon.

“Last summer, she was jumping out of airplanes,” Whitaker said. “I said just don’t hurt those feet baby.”

Whether it’s the combat boots or the track spikes, Chance’s mindset remains the same.

“Keep holding on,” Chance said. “I wanted to give up on myself, and I always had that support system telling me to keep holding on.”