Emily Naylor: Not your ordinary scholar/vegetarian/state cross country champion

Emily Naylor of Kalaheo was well ahead of the field during the second mile of an OIA meet at Leilehua on Saturday. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

She has learned, hands on, what it means to be extremely motivated and strategically balanced.

That’s Emily Naylor there, the young lady from Kalaheo with a 4.1 grade-average. She turned her 99th-place finish at the 2018 state cross country meet into a state championship one year later. Naylor is featured in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, entering her senior year as a the defending state champion from 2019.

“I’ve never had anybody be a champion, always winning,” Kalaheo cross country coach Peter Jay said. “It was someone in the pack, in the front. This season, she still surprised me. With COVID and everything, you don’t know how it will affect them.”

Naylor is as humorous as she is passionate when it comes to life, and running in particular. She never forgets a thing.

During the OIA championships in ’19, it was a hot day at CORP.

“It was funny because the second-place girl, when I ran by her coach, he yelled at her, ‘She looks so tired! You can catch her!’ And I thought, I’m not tired. I look strong and I’m not going to let anybody pass me. It was motivation. He shouted it right at me,” Naylor said. “If I see him again, I’ll fix my form and pick it up a bit. I try and feel better than I actually do and run a little faster, like at CORP where there’s people all through the course.”

When she won the HHSAA state championship meet two years ago, the race was held at Seabury Hall, in Makawao.

“There were some hills, uphill and downhill. I remember the cheering. There were some parents there. I was wearing some bright neon pink and orange flats (running shoes), and some of the parents were shouting, ‘You didn’t wear those bright shoes for nothing!’ Some of them were just from other public schools, which I thought was pretty cool. One of them was yelling, ‘Don’t let the private schools win! Win one for the OIA!’”

Shortly after winning states, Naylor flew to California for the Footlocker regionals. It was cold, which she doesn’t like, and the terrain was soggy after a hard rain. She ran her personal best 18:36.

“It rained really hard the day before so they had to change the course 30 minutes before the race. We ran through the parking lots and down the campus, so the footing was fine, but I’m really bad with the cold and it was 55 degrees,” she said. “I thought I warmed up well, but it took me until the end of the race to finally feel my legs. It was interesting to run with numb legs. I used to live in Virginia where it was 30 below.”

Spring of 2020 brought a new set of challenges. By mid-March, athletes knew a lockdown was imminent. COVID-19 was just beginning to wreak havoc globally. The OIA meet at Radford’s John Velasco Field was only the second of the season.

“The last meet before everything shut down, it lasted until 11 o’clock at night because everyone knew it was the last meet. There were 50 people in line to run the 200. The line went all across the football field,” she said. “I was like, wow, this is going to be a long time until I can run the 3K. I just want to go to bed right now.”

That strange state of consciousness, where an external crisis changes all goals and plans, was put on hold for a few moments that night.

“I ran a 5:15 in the 1,500. That was a new PR for that year. The 4×400, we didn’t get my time, but that would be a 76 or 74 (seconds). It felt fast,” Naylor said. “The 3K, I did 10:50. I got to run with the boys.”

Amy (mother), John Brian (father) and Myles (brother) are always supportive of Emily Naylor’s endeavors. This photo was taken in 2016 when the Naylor family lived in Virginia. Photo courtesy of Emily Naylor.

Her voyage since the early days of the pandemic has been quite a test. When the global pandemic led to months of tier-related restrictions, two of Naylor’s worlds collided: training and vegetarianism. It wasn’t a happy meeting of two major elements for Naylor.

“During quarantine, sophomore year, I decided to go vegan,” said Naylor, who had been a vegetarian since sixth grade. “It started with good intentions, but it ended with an eating disorder. It was fine during the season, but once we were in quarantine and we had no control over something, it was something I could control. Restrictive eating, eating healthy and being able to run.”

Naylor’s inner drive, the thing that turned her into a state champion, was also the trait that made her resistant to seeing the effect of her less-structured life during the pandemic.

“The overtraining. I really knew it was bad because I would go on runs and feel absolutely exhausted. I’d check my weight and I’m really not healthy now. I finally got help and got a dietician who is just amazing. I think I’m much, much healthier now,” she said.

The process took time.

“First, since I was severely underweight, we focused on getting my weight back up in a healthy way. We incorporated a lot more peanut butter. I love peanut butter. I still kept my mileage up because I’m sort of a stubborn person. So I stuck to that and I got my weight back up,” Naylor said.

Getting calories and nutrients into her body required a change to mindset.

“We focused on becoming more flexible with what I can eat. She’s always saying instead of calling myself a vegan or vegetarian, be a flexitarian. Eat whatever I want.”

That means there’s an occasional pepperoni pizza.

“I’m not completely against meat. I’ve had it a few times in the past year, but I like my choices better, and also taking days off and listening to my body,” she said.

Naylor became a vegetarian as a matter of taste.

“Because the only meat I liked was chicken sticks. In class, we saw all kinds of videos about how meat can affect your body. I wondered, ‘Are the chicken sticks really worth it?’ I’m not going to judge anyone who eats meat. I still eat that,” she said.

Now, she gets her protein from soy milk, peanut butter, tofu and texturized soy protein (TVP).

“I make sure to get in protein for each meal. Carbs, lots of bread and pasta,” Naylor said.

Bread and bagels are big for Naylor, and she gets many of her favorites at the commissary.

“I’d say over the years, they have a lot more accommodations for vegetarian lifestyles. We’re ale to get everything that I like to get there,” she said. “As long as you make it taste good and you like what you’re eating, it’s a sustainable lifestyle. I’m glad I’ve gone through this at a young age.”

As for surviving a world without races, Naylor found a way to evolve, doing it with teammates and friends. After two weeks of life without running in the spring of ’20, she got back to her passion. It would be a long offseason.

“I restarted training for cross country for one-and-a-half years,” Naylor said. “Some of my teammates, one of them lives close to me, Ben Zerr, so we’d run together to keep each other accountable and formed a friendship, which is nice.”

Zerr, a senior, was second in the OIA boys championships in ’19.

“We live a mile away from each other so we can meet and run around Kailua from there. Running with her, she’s definitely a lot more serious than I am. She does longer workouts, definitely more miles in a week than I did. She would do 40 or 50 miles and I would do 20,” he said. “On long runs, we would do an easy pace together, push each other equally. She’s a lot better at distance than I am.”

Naylor’s interest in marathons began to increase.

“During the summer, since I wasn’t really keeping track of my miles, I looked back. I was doing 60-mile weeks, so I asked my coach if I could do a half-marathon,” she said.

Together, they set up a run with three other runners with a similar pace. Each ran a separate leg with Naylor, pacing with her. She ran the half-marathon in 1:28.

“I really, really have wanted to run a (full) marathon for a long time, but my dad said it’s not good for your bones. You’re still growing. So I’ll probably wait until after college to run one,” said Naylor, who hopes to continue running at Tennessee-Chattanooga. “It’s right next to my grandparents. I’ll probably get to hang out with them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ll have two homes.”

Home is key for Naylor. Her parents provide the ultimate balance when it comes to perspective.

“My dad (John Brian Naylor) is the one who’s, ‘You’re doing great, you’re doing perfect, you don’t need to change.’ But my mom (Amy Naylor) says, ‘You need a reality check’,” she said. “My mom keeps it real.”

Exercise Science, she added, is a possible college major.

“My mom thinks I’d be really good in media. When I got Gatorade runner of the year for the second year in a row, they had the Pay It Forward program,” Naylor said.

She created a video that wowed the panel at Gatorade. Her first-place award, a $12,000 prize in all, went to the Kauai Youth Marathon program.

Two meets into the fall season of 2021, Naylor is satisfied. Hungry, pushing hard, but content with the balance. She posted a 19:10 on Leilehua’s fairly hilly course on Saturday.

“They went three times around the campus. You’re waiting and there she is. She’s looking strong,” Jay said. “They tweaked (the course) to make it longer. The Kalani coach said it was over three miles. I keep all the results and she ran Leilehua in 22:07 in 2018. Emily shaved three minutes off her time from freshman year.”

Naylor has the science of calories and running down to an art form.

“As long as you make it taste good and you like what you’re eating, it’s a sustainable lifestyle,” she said. “I’m glad I’ve gone through this at a young age. If I wanted to be a nutritionist, I could do it.”

Emily Naylor’s lockdown staples

Top 3 movies/shows

1. “Lost”

“I’m really into ‘Lost’ right now. My parents got me into it. I think it’s season five. I’m getting close to the end. “

2. “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

“That really reminded me of Avatar.”

3. “Avatar”

“I heard that they were going to (do a sequel), but I don’t know if they actually did.”

Top 3 food/snack/drink

1. Smoothie bowls.

“Normally I just make a regular smoothie. Soy milk and frozen fruit, some spinach, blend it up. And I put granola on top and some peanut butter. Sometimes it’ll be creamy, sometimes it’ll be crunchy. Normally two hours before I work out. I’ll have it after I come home from school.”

2. Waffles.

“I really like waffles, any kind of waffles. It’s kind of hard to make homemade waffles. I like the Kodak cake waffles. They’re a protein waffle, whey protein. They taste really good and you get the boost. I’ll normally put peanut butter and maple syrup.”

3. Burrito.

“I eat a lot of burritos during the week. If we make it, that’s two more days of of lunches, so that’s three burritos. Normally, I’ll make it. My parents will have tacos. I’m vegetarian so they’ll make the regular grande tacos and I’ll warm up refried beans and either some meat substitute like tofu or soy protein, and some veggies. My mom made fried tofu curry last week and it was so good.”

Bread and bagels aren’t on her top-3 list, but they are a real staple.

“I get a lot of my protein from soy milk, peanut butter, tofu. There’s texturized (TVP) soy protein. I make sure to get in protein for each meal. Carbs, lots of bread, pasta. My favorite type of bread is Ezekiel, but there’s these cinnamon raisin bagels by Dave’s Killer Bread. Whenever I bring them to school, they want them. I toast them. Peanut butter, I really do like NuttZo. It has seven different nuts and seeds, chia, pumpkin, flax, Brazilian peanuts, cashews. A whole bunch of them. I also like to have a regular peanut butter, Martha’s Nut Butter, which is what they have at the commissary.

“I’ve made pizzas before, or we make jambalaya, pretty much anything you can normally eat with meat, just replace it. Beet burgers are very good. They were gone within the first day. You put beets, pine nuts, oats so it has some texture. It doesn’t taste like meat, but it has a nutty earthy taste.

Top 3 music artists

1. Elton John – “Rocket Man”

2. Earth Wind & Fire – “Boogie Wonderland”

3. MC Hammer – “Can’t Touch This”

GPA: 4.1*

“I’m not sure what it is, but it should be over 4.1 because I take AP classes. Our school changed to a new grading program that just shows your grades, not your grade-point average. Last year it was 4.08. This year I’m getting all A’s, so it should be about a 4.1. AP classes are topics I’m just interested in.”

Favorite class: AP Biology.

“I just have a really good teacher (Mrs. Koopman) who makes sure she thoroughly explains everything. She gives us even more information that’s not on the curriculum. It’s nice because unlike other AP teachers, she said I know a lot of you are taking it for college credit, but if I focus on teaching you biology rather than just preparing you to take a test.”

Favorite teacher: “Probably Mrs. Koopman.”

“But I do get along with all my teachers really well.”

New life skill: braid my own hair.

“I can do French braids and a lot of new hairstyles which I thought was handy because I could hardly braid before that.”

Hidden talent: Memorizing numbers.

“If people tell me a time or a number to keep in mind, I’m very good at recalling it. When we hiked Kuliouou, my friends told me a number, 422, at the start of the trail. We talked and hiked, and at the end I still remembered it. Maybe a better one is pi. I’m not really interested in it. It’s 3.1415926.”

Time machine: “I’d go back to states (in 2019) because it was a really good team bonding moment. We stayed in our hotel, went from room to room to room. We went to the mall. This guy made a video montage of people doing back flops into the water in a whole line. Then he had it reversed. It’s a cheesy video, but it was so funny. He even got some other guests to do it.”

Bucket list:

“The Netherlands would be cool. I want to go to Scotland with my best friend (Lily McKay). She used to live there and she visits every summer. It looks like a beautiful place. We were saying when we graduate high school she’ll take me there.

“I’d have to go to the Bahamas for tourist purposes. Maybe Australia. I heard there’s really big bugs there. Not a big fan of stinging bugs, but I think I’d be OK. I want to see the Aussie culture.”

Shout outs

“Shout out to my coaches for giving me confidence, making me a strong runner. Shout out to my papa (John Naylor), my dad’s dad, for helping me find a great college and helping me get a scholarship. Shout out to my mom for keeping it real.


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