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Track and Field  . 

Frightful Childhood Experiences Can't Keep Kayla Racine Down

by Brad Muller

There’s no place like home. It sounds like a fairy tale or a marketing slogan, but for South Carolina track and field’s Kayla Racine, it’s a happy ending after a nightmarish childhood. The graduate student who competes in the throw events was put into foster care at the age of eight, and after bouncing around various homes over the next ten years while suffering multiple personal tragedies, she was finally adopted at the age of 18 before getting a chance to be an NCAA student-athlete.

“I feel like I can be anything I want to be now,” Racine said. “I’ve learned that your past doesn’t have to cripple you from doing anything. God has blessed me.”

(Click the + symbols below to read the chapters of Kayla’s journey.)

“With everything I went through, sometimes I think I shouldn’t be here. But I am”
Kayla Racine
  • TOUGH START FOR KAYLA AND HER BROTHERS Toggle content

    Kayla Racine childhood photo

    Racine was born in North Augusta and later lived in Mauldin. She and her two brothers went into foster care when she was eight years old. Life was tough from the start.

    “I never met my father,” Racine said. “He was Haitian. My mom and dad met in New York. My mom was a single mother. She was on drugs and alcohol and was not able to take care of us. I ended up staying with my auntie and my grandfather. I called him my Pop-Pop. I was with them a lot when my mom was on the streets or in jail. Then I went into foster care.

    “A big reason we entered foster care is because I was molested as a child by her boyfriend, and she was in jail at the time. I told her, and she didn’t believe me. That mentally changed me as a child. I got angry with her. Why would you not believe your own child over this man? Why aren’t you doing the things you need to do to get us back? Month after month, year after year, I’m thinking that she is supposed to be passing these drug tests and doing the things you’re supposed to do to try to get us back, and she didn’t have any drive or desire to do that. It made me feel like she was a selfish woman who didn’t care about her kids.”

    Foster care was a difficult transition, and she had so many questions.

    “It was very traumatizing,” Racine said. “I had a lot of people telling me what I could and couldn’t do. I could only go on visits with my biological mom if she completed some tests, and she had to get permission. We would just meet in a little room for about an hour, then we’d have to go back to the group home.”

    Her younger brother was soon adopted. She and her older brother bounced around to various group and individual foster care homes around South Carolina.

    “Growing up in foster care, there are so many kids in the same situation as you or even worse than you,” Racine said. “Being around that makes you angry and frustrated as a child, not knowing what was going to happen in life. Not knowing why you’re here. Not knowing when you’re going to go back home. Not knowing if you’re going to get separated from the rest of your family. It was pretty tough.

    “My mom actually lives in Columbia now, but I never visit her. I haven’t talked to her since 2020 when my older brother passed away. He was 23. My younger brother was adopted when we were all younger. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to talk to him growing up once he was adopted. His adopted family didn’t want him to have connections with his siblings because I think they were afraid he would backslide.”

     

  • MORE STRUGGLES AND THEN RELIEF Toggle content

    In high school, Racine was in a foster home in the Columbia area, but her life was not stable.

    “Sometimes I’d have to stay in what’s called a respite home,” Racine said. “Sometimes if the family that you’re staying with goes somewhere with their own family and they don’t take you, you go to the respite home until they come back. I got sent to respite because I had an altercation with the woman that was fostering me. She put her hands on me, and that’s not allowed to happen. She got so angry and hit me, and I couldn’t hit her back because I was 18 and could have been charged.”

    During that time, she spoke to a friend about joining the tennis team at her high school and that’s how she met what would become her adoptive family.

    “The lady I was staying with and the people at the respite home didn’t want to take me to practice, so I decided I would get myself there and where I need to go,” Racine said. “So, I asked the mom (Uvette Pope-Rogers) of my friend on the team if she would mind taking me back home after practices, and she said OK. Then one night, I asked her that if anything ever happened, could I come stay with them, and she said yes. Two weeks later was when the altercation happened, and my friend’s family just happened to already be going through the foster care process when I came into their life. So, they decided they would adopt me.”

    “We were already trying to adopt a younger son because we already had two daughters and one son,” Pope-Rogers said. “We just developed a relationship with Kayla from driving back and forth to tennis matches and where she needed to be. We definitely weren’t looking to adopt an 18-year-old, but we knew she was struggling where she was. I knew she wanted a family. If she was going to live with us, we wanted her to be part of the family permanently. So, we went from there.

    “We’re a family of introverts and for her to come in and be the extravert that she is, it was a shock to our system,” Pope-Rogers added with a laugh.

    It was her senior year at Westwood High School in Blythewood, and by law she was now an adult, but Kayla Racine finally had a place to call home.

    “I was adopted in August of 2018. We went to court and got papers signed. (Image below) It was a surreal experience!” Racine said. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it at first. I was so used to jumping from home to home and adapting quickly.

    “I have my own room! It’s really nice. I had my own dresser and didn’t have to share a bed or a room with anybody. It was surreal in remembering how when I was little my mom had us bouncing around to various trailers, and we’d get kicked out of places. We stayed in shelters and one of her boyfriend’s trucks. We had to go to soup kitchens on weekends to eat.”

    With her new family, she now has a mom and dad with Uvette and Warren as well as two sisters, Nyla and Meera, and a brother, Warren, Jr.

    Kayla Racine adoption day

  • NEW CHALLENGES AHEAD Toggle content

    Kayla wasn’t limited to just tennis when it came to sports interests, and such activities were a good outlet for her.

    “I was a fat, chubby kid growing up,” Racine said with a laugh. “I started playing volleyball when I was young, and that was my sport. I tried to get into basketball a little bit. I played on the JV team in high school, and then I started doing track in the ninth grade. I wanted to run, and I didn’t want to throw anything, but the coach said I should just come throw. I still had all that baby fat on me.”

    She discovered she was pretty good at it, and it brought her some level of peace after having so much anger in seeing what everyone else had, and she did not.

    “When I started throwing, it helped me relieve stress and anger,” Racine said. “I put that aggression into the shotput. I started getting better and better.”

    That eventually led to an opportunity to compete at the collegiate level. Even with her new family, she wanted to get out of South Carolina for a fresh start and committed to Tennessee where the Rogers family helped her move and get settled. While she enjoyed Knoxville and being at Tennessee, it wasn’t the right fit and she looked to transfer after a couple of years.

    “I was going through hard times in college,” Racine said. “I called a hotline to talk to somebody and they asked if I had any family, and I was embarrassed, so I hung up the phone and called my (new) mom and dad! I realized that I’m adopted now. I have a family that supports me. It’s different in knowing that people love you and will break their back to take care of you, even if it’s difficult for them. They didn’t know me, and they took the opportunity to have me and bring me into their household. They chose to love on me, give me basic necessities and help me get into college. The whole idea of going to college wasn’t in the cards for me before. I was planning on enlisting in the military.

    “It was nice knowing that when there were breaks for Thanksgiving and things like that, I didn’t have to stay in my dorm room. I could go home and be with my family and share those times. It’s truly a blessing. I praise God every day for it.”

    Racine soon came around to the idea of coming home to South Carolina and reached out to the Gamecock coaching staff.

    “She contacted me and said I want to come home,” said assistant coach Mike Sergent, who coaches the throw events. “She was looking for a fresh start. Her improvement in one year here was impressive. She added roughly seven or eight feet in the weight throw in one season and maybe fifty feet in the outdoor season for the hammer throw. That’s a crazy improvement for anyone in one season. She really showed us how she is a hard worker, and she wants it. She is very driven.”

    “I had this overwhelming sense of peace, and I started crying,” Racine said. “I came to South Carolina as a walk-on and earned a scholarship after last year. There were people here that supported me, and I had a new fire. The coaches kept giving me opportunities to show them who I am.”

    Kayla Racine spring 2022

    She did well in her first season with the Gamecocks, setting new personal bests several times in various throw events while also etching her name in the school record books after becoming only the third Gamecock woman to ever throw 20 meters or farther in the weight throw.

    “She is coachable in that she is very driven, and she wants feedback,” Sergent said. “We’ve had a lot of sidebar conversations after practice. She constantly wants to be evaluated because she is constantly doing that to herself. She really cares and wants to get better.

    “It’s very rewarding to have someone who has had to fight through so much and overcome a lot. It is profound to me in what she has accomplished. She has standards for herself. Some people get discouraged by their setbacks. She doesn’t allow that to happen. She recognizes what is healthy and good and what’s not. She doesn’t think or expect that anything is just going to be handed to her. That’s why she is in the position that she is in now.”

    Additionally, she earned her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies and is now pursuing a masters in Sport and Entertainment Management. She aspires to be a sports reporter when her athletics career is over.

  • FAITH KEEPS HER STRONG Toggle content

    Not everyone could have endured what Kayla Racine did and come out on the positive side. While she didn’t realize it at first, she now believes there was a higher power seeing her through the darkness.

    “I think about God,” Racine said. “Throughout all those situations where I was living in different homes. I wasn’t allowed to go on field trips for school. As a ward of the state, I wasn’t allowed to travel outside the state without permission, so when they didn’t allow me to go, I was always the kid alone at school, sitting in a classroom while the whole class was on a field trip.

    “One thing I noticed looking back on all those times is that God made himself evident in my life. When I first went into foster care, they made us go to a Good News club after school to learn about Jesus. I remember thinking, why do we have to do this? Then I went somewhere else to live, and they sent us to a Christian camp in Brevard, North Carolina, and I kept wondering why they were sending us to these places because I didn’t want to do it. Every place I went to, God made sure I knew who He was. He brought me through all those things because I know that statistically speaking, I should not be in college. I should not be a student-athlete. I should not have all this help getting school paid for. I have no explanation for any of those things other than God putting me in front of people I’m supposed to be around and taking me to places I’m supposed to go. He provided things for me that I couldn’t provide for myself. It’s not luck. It was ordained. I’m grateful for it.”

    “With the stuff that she has been through, being able to talk about it has helped her,” Pope-Rogers said. “She used to not want to talk about her birth family and blood relatives. The more she would talk about it and opened up about it, I could tell the difference in her. To be able to express the trauma she has had in her life and the resilience she has shown in her life is amazing.”

    Looking back, Kayla Racine is justified in having some anger, but her attitude of gratitude rises above everything else.

    “Nobody wants to be taken away from their family or sexually abused as a child, but looking back I’m grateful for it because it has made me who I am. It has made me resilient. Now I know I can do anything. Nobody is holding me back anymore.

    “Sometimes, I can’t believe that I’m actually here. My older brother is already gone. My younger brother is into some stuff and not really headed down the right road. If I lose him, then it’s just me who has to carry the weight of being the first person to graduate from college and to keep my biological family’s name alive. God is providing everything I need for me to continue to get to the right place, but with everything I went through, sometimes I think I shouldn’t be here.

    “But I am.”

    Kayla Racine Spring '22