OXFORD, Miss. – Growing up in Lexington, Ky., there was never a dull moment around the Breathitt househould. Sisters Katie and Kelsey were constantly active and, along with an older brother, were highly competitive with one another.
Their parents, Tom and Linda, knew they would need to find outlets for their young daughters to satisfy both their desire for activity and rivalry.
“We were really very energetic when we were young and our parents just got us involved in anything that they could,” Katie Breathitt said. “We really liked soccer.”
It was not only the sport that the pair enjoyed, but also the culture and the friendships they formed along the way.
“I think we started playing when we were four years old,” Kelsey Breathitt said. “We loved the sport, we loved all of our friends and we’ve been playing almost our whole lives.”
As Katie Breathitt sees it, the competitive nature of the sisters was a natural by-product of being a twin.
“I think it just really comes from being twins and always wanting to be better than one another,” she said. “We always wanted to be the better one or the faster one. We were competitive in everything – anything from a small race that would be in town to training with each other for soccer to the treadmill. I always wanted to make sure I was running the same exact speed as her or just a little bit faster.”
As teenagers, the Breathitt sisters excelled in all areas of their lives. Katie and Kelsey were both Academic All-State honorees and helped their Lexington Catholic High School team to district and regional championships in three consecutive years and a state runner-up finish in 2005. They were co-captains of their high school soccer team and played on the highly competitive Ohio Elite club team.
“We were on a very competitive club soccer team throughout high schools,” Katie Breathitt said. “Most of the girls on our team were recruited by different colleges and we knew that’s what we wanted to do, so we had to work hard.”
It took only one visit to Oxford to convince the pair that they had found their new home.
“We went there for soccer, but we fell in love with everything about Ole Miss,” Kelsey Breathitt said.
Her sister agreed.
“Right when we got to campus, I knew that’s where I wanted to go,” Katie Breathitt said.
Each sister would have a different experience in her freshman season with the Rebels.
Kelsey Breathitt played in each of her team’s 20 matches, earning five starts at forward, and earning an SEC Freshman of the Week designation. Katie Breathitt missed her senior season in high school with an ACL injury and was redshirted her rookie year.
A year later, Kelsey would start 17 matches and help an Ole Miss offense that ranked second in the Southeastern Conference and 31st in the nation in scoring, averaging 2.1 goals per game. Katie would see action in just six matches, never really finding her groove after the ACL injury.
But a turn of fate would revitalize her athletic career.
“With soccer, we have different kinds of fitness tests that we do and for one of them, we had to run about the same distance as a 3K,” Katie Breathitt said. “One of the guys on the track team who was training with us found out what time I had run in my fitness test and thought that I should talk to the coaches about trying to get on the cross country team.”
Katie Breathitt had never run organized track or cross country in her life, but always had a passion for running as part of her soccer conditioning.
“I had always wanted to do it because I knew I liked running so much,” she said. “But because of time constraints and my practice schedules with soccer, I was never able to.”
Katie Breathitt took that leap of faith and joined Ole Miss’ cross country and track and field teams. She was an excellent runner, but there was certainly an adjustment period that accompanied the transition.
“My teammates were very encouraging and helpful,” she said. “At first I didn’t know the little things, like how many laps around the track it took for a certain distance and they would just laugh. It was definitely a risk going from soccer to running because I didn’t know if I was going to be successful or how well I was going to do.”
By any measure, saying Katie Breathitt’s first season with the Rebels’ track and field squad was a success would be an understatement.
New to the sport, Katie Breathitt broke a pair of outdoor school records, shattering the school record in the steeplechase with a time of 10:39.95 to finish fifth at the SEC Championships. At that meet, she also clocked a school-record time of 16:49.76 at 5,000 meters to place eighth at the league meet in that event.
“I was lucky that I was able to do well,” Katie Breathitt said. “I think a lot of it has to do with my genetics, but also I think it has to do with the competitive attitude I’ve had with my sister. I have always been competitive.”
As for Kelsey Breathitt, she started her junior season of 2010 season with a game-winning goal against Middle Tennessee before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. She would prepare to return to the soccer team the following the season before deciding to join her sister on the cross country team for the 2011 campaign.
“In my junior year, I tore my ACL and that was a big part of [the switch],” Kelsey Breathitt said. “After that, I had no intentions of going to track, I planned to come back and play soccer. I began running a lot more distance wise than I had previously and, when I came back, we had new coaches and a lot of things were different. I wasn’t the same soccer player, but I knew I still loved running.”
With the idea planted in her mind from her sister’s sport swap, Kelsey Breathitt decided to try out track and cross country.
“Katie had switched and I was really interested,” she said. “It probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind if Katie hadn’t done it, but seeing what she did made me know it could be done.”
Kelsey Breathitt found herself running much freer than how she played soccer. It was a welcome change.
“When I was going to train for soccer, I would have to think about so many different things,” Kelsey Breathitt said. “I had to work on my shooting or my touch; there were so many different aspects I needed to improve upon. In track, once I’m done with a run, I’m done. There’s no stress about having to go work on this and then having to go work on that. I didn’t stress about it much; it was really relaxing.”
Both sisters have excelled in both the classroom and in their new sport during their four years in Oxford. They enter their final collegiate seasons this fall when Ole Miss takes to the cross country course.
Despite experiencing college careers that have seen their fair share of twists and turns, the Breathitt sisters have enjoyed their unique journey with the Rebels.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Kelsey Breathitt said. “I really wouldn’t change anything about the whole college experience. I feel lucky to have done both soccer and track, and to have made so many friends and memories.”
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