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Eric Peterson, Published May 25 2010

Concordia track: All-American girl, Cobbers’ Kay a quick study in music, track

Leah Kay was about 5 years old when her musical talent first surfaced. She would stand to the side and watch her mom conduct piano lessons with beginner students.

“She would listen and after the student would leave she would sit down on the piano and play the lesson,” said Barb Kay, Leah’s mom and also a music teacher for 30 years.

“She couldn’t read notes, but she would just play it by ear, the lesson.”

Kay has also proved to be a quick learner in track and field. While she came to Concordia initially to play volleyball, she has developed into a track standout for the Cobbers.

Kay will compete at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track Championships – which begins Thursday in Berea, Ohio – in the high jump and heptathlon.

She is a five-time All-American.

“She picks up things really quick; the brain is really connected with the muscles,” Cobbers head women’s track coach Marv Roeske. “She just does so much. … There are some people on this campus who know who Leah is and they may not even know she is a five-time track All-American.”

Kay has made two CDs of her own original piano music. The first one called Pedals for the Soul she made during the summer after she was in eighth grade. The second called Childhood Memories, she made the summer after her senior year in high school at Dassel-Cokato (Minn.).

Kay has sold about 2,500 copies of the CDs with part of the proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in memory of her cousin, Christina Nordlie, who died at age 10 from a heart ailment. Kay was 4 years old at the time.

Initially, Kay made the CDs for family members as gifts, but as the demand for the CDs grew more had to be made. Some of the local businesses around where she grew up sold the CDs.

“It seems kind of strange to think about how many people want to listen to it because I can’t even listen to it,” Leah said of both the CDs, which had no digital editing. “I hear the mistakes that I make in there and I just kind of cringe.”

Her piano music is being featured on “Whisperings: Solo Piano Radio,” which can be found online at www.solopianoradio.com.

Barb said Leah has given her CDs free to non-profit organizations. Her piano music has been used for call waiting at places like nursing homes, high schools, hospitals and dental offices.

When Leah plays her music live, a nursing home is her favorite venue.

“I know how much a lot of the elderly people appreciate just having someone come in to take the time to and play for them,” Leah said. “It’s so fun to talk to them afterwards, too. They have so many good stories.”

Kay’s musical talents aren’t limited to a single instrument. Leah is on musical scholarship for bassoon at Concordia. She can also play the guitar, violin and mandolin. She started taking violin lessons when she was in first grade.

Leah is just as versatile in track as she excels in the multi-events. She holds the Concordia school indoor record in the pentathlon (3,345 points). She is second all-time in the outdoor heptathlon (4,624).

Leah hadn’t competed in the shot put, long jump, hurdles of javelin prior to Concordia.

“I’m a pretty quick learner I guess,” she said. “If I can see it and picture it, I can tend to it.”

Leah is studying pre-med even though she excels in music. She also plans to do mission work in Peru next spring before she goes to medical school.

“I’m really interested in biology and medicine,” said Leah, who did 10 weeks of undergraduate research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., last summer. “That for me is a passion. I really want to help people in that way.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.