ISU track athlete competes against rival, former teammate


Blake Lanser/Iowa State Daily

Freshman Elijah Young greets Kaleb Kesselring of Iowa during the Big Four Duals on Jan. 24.

Trey Alessio

It all started in the halls of Brody Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa. Elijah Young was new to the school. He was just like any other preteen, dealing with the drama of middle school. One day, Kaleb Kesselring, a classmate, said something that got under Young’s skin, so Young grabbed Kesselring by the shirt, got in his face and said, “Who you talkin’ to?”

That kid, Kesselring, would turn out to be one of Young’s best friends and teammates.

High school rolled around. Young had been known as the “track guy” at Des Moines Lincoln High School. Kesselring was just having fun participating in both football and track. But eventually, it clicked for the both of them that track would be a big part of their future.

Young started track at a young age and pursued it heavily.

“When I was in kindergarten, I always wanted to play hide-and-go-seek, but no one wanted to play with me because I was too fast,” Young said. “I’d go home and tell my mom, and she’d be like, ‘why don’t you try track?’”

Young continued to run track in high school. In 2012, when Young was a junior, he ran the 400-meter event at the AAU Nationals in Houston, Texas and won.

“It was an upset because all the contenders in the final heat were from Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and then the kid from Iowa won,” Young said. “They were like, ‘what state is Iowa?’ That’s when I knew I was definitely going to go to college for track.”

Kesselring started track in middle school. He and Young started off on the wrong foot, but it was track that brought them together.

Kesselring was continually developing as a runner throughout high school.

“In high school, I was not particularly fast in any sport up until my junior year and then [my speed] started to get noticed, especially in football,” Kesselring said. “In track, because I wasn’t particularly fast to begin with, I wasn’t really on the relays that made it to state and the Drake Relays up until I actually got recognized my junior and senior year.”

Kesselring would eventually break the record for the 200-meter dash at Lincoln High School with a time of 21.85.

Young and Kesselring had a bond through track at Lincoln High School, but they would soon part ways.

“When I was younger, I moved around a lot with my mom. I went to elementary school up here for a short time and I guess I kind of got some Cyclone blood in me,” Young said “I was thinking about going south for a while because I’m not a fan of the snow … actually, the TCU coach had still wanted me for a really long time, but I was like, ‘Coach, I’ve already committed to Iowa State.’”

Kesselring chose a different path.

“I got a full academic scholarship to Iowa and I knew I didn’t have to pay to go to college, and once you’re a graduating senior, getting ready to go to campus, everyone’s like, ‘you’ve got to get involved,'” Kesselring said. “The only thing I’ve ever really been involved with throughout high school is track and football. I definitely wasn’t going to play football, so it was really an easy decision.”

One a Cyclone, the other a Hawkeye, from teammates to rivals. On Jan. 24, Iowa State and Iowa met at the Big 4 Duals in Ames. For the first time, freshmen Young and Kesselring faced each other on different teams.

The Iowa track and field team came a day early for the premeet. When Young saw Kesselring, he ran up to him to greet his old friend.

“I think I got a few dirty looks from Iowa, but I don’t really care because he’s still always going to be my friend,” Young said.

The meet finally rolled around. Kesselring competed in the 60-meter dash, while Young raced in the 4×400-meter. Kesselring finished with a time of 7.36 for Iowa, and Young’s 4×400 team finished with a time of 3:17.99.

Young said it was bittersweet running against Kesselring at the Big 4 Duals.

Kesselring said since they’re friends, he told Young to do well, but at the same time, he wanted the scores to go in Iowa’s favor.

“It’s cool to see teammates because it just gives you another reason to run,” Kesselring said. “It’s sort of a rivalry, but at the same time, it gives running more meaning. That’s the thing when you’re in a sport where it’s running. Some people think running is a punishment from other sports and they don’t think it’s fun. But it is fun when you have rivalries like that.”

For their moms, who have gone to a countless number of track meets to watch their sons run together as teammates, it was a new experience for them to watch their sons compete for different teams.

“I think it shows that no matter where life takes you, that real friendship lasts,” said Young’s mom, Brandy Young. “It was really nice to see them together again and cheering each other on and being supportive even though they’re on different teams.”

For someone who has been best friends with Young and Kesselring since middle school, picking a side was tough. Jordan Bryson, a freshman at Iowa State and the one who persuaded Young to come to Brody Middle School because of their success at the Drake Relays, came to the Big 4 Duals meet to cheer on both of his friends. He also attended Lincoln High School and ran track with Young and Kesselring.

“I didn’t know who to root for because we’ve always been a team,” Bryson said.

It was fun for Bryson to watch Young and Kesselring in a competitive rivalry, although he didn’t feel like it was a rivalry, despite the different names across the front of their jerseys.

Kesselring agreed. He said running against Young was more motivation than anything.

“As a general team, Iowa State is a rival, and I hope to beat them every time, but with Elijah, he gives me motivation to keep doing track and succeed. If he can do it, I can too because we have the same upbringing,” Kesselring said.

Young said it’s a rivalry when they’re not together, but when they are, it’s just family.

Young and Kesselring will meet each other again at the Iowa State Classic in Ames on Feb. 13.

“I am very proud of both of them,” Brandy Young said. “It’s breathtaking for kids to live up to their potential.”