A St. Thomas soccer star has become a TikTok sensation, but her social media fame has nothing to do with corner kicks or one-touch passing.
Kaila Novak, a freshman on the women’s soccer team at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), has nearly one million followers on the video-sharing app, where she posts lighthearted videos reviewing what she eats in a day as an athlete.
“The second I got to UCLA, if somebody told me I’d be known for that, I would say, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” the 19-year-old said.
After landing in Los Angeles last summer, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Novak settled into her dorm room for a two-week quarantine and started sharing reviews of the food from the school’s cafeteria.
“I couldn’t do anything else,” she said. “The videos got way more views than all my other ones previously, and people were so fascinated by it.
“I was like, ,’Hey, if I can eat food, which I love doing, and people love that, then I’m going to continue.’ ”
Even on the field, opposing players would notice her, she said.
“I’ll be on the wing, and they will be on the bench and be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s TikTok girl,’ and little chirps like that. It’s kind of weird because I would never expect anyone to notice me.”
Clearly, her pre-game meal posts are paying off.
Novak features all kinds of food on her TikTok account, @Ohkai_, including Steak bao, Chinese pancakes and her personal favourite, Indian butter chicken curry.
With each video comes humorous commentary, including her signature, ‘Let’s go’ to kick off the first bite.
In her rookie year in NCAA soccer, the St. Thomas native started in 10 of 14 games, netting one goal and three assists. She was recently named First Touch Football (FTF) Women’s NCAA All-Canadian freshmen attacker of the year.
After coming back from an ankle injury earlier in the season, Novak helped lead her team to the women’s soccer championship in the Pacific-12 Conference, the group of schools against whom UCLA plays.
“That was the biggest moment . . . in our season,” she said. “It hasn’t been done in quite a few years.”
Besides her on-field talent and upbeat food videos, Novak is known in the TikTok community for her relationship with recent girlfriend Olivia Ponton, a model and social influencer she met on the app.
The pair started talking via social media while Novak was in Canada and later ran into each other in Los Angeles, said Novak.
“We actually were in (a bookstore) . . .She came up to me and said, ‘Oh my God, I know you, let’s hang out.’ And from there, the rest is history, I guess.”
Novak said while having a public relationship can be overwhelming at times, it’s rewarding knowing she inspires others to be comfortable with their identity.
Novak, who started using the app in March 2020 and has amassed about 948,000 followers since, said her message “really is just to be happier and vibe out with life. Like, no matter what’s going on, you can always see the positive in every situation.”
Taking that sentiment to heart, Novak dreams of one day playing pro soccer.
“I definitely want to play on the national team at some point, get called to a camp,” before she graduates, she said, “and then, I guess, go pro after university.”