Sophomore Mary Young can usually be found in her gym clothes with a backpack full of English books. Between holding the school record for the 100-meter hurdles and being a full-time student, Young is much busier than the average student athlete.
Still, she’s adapted to the life of a collegiate athlete. Her responsibilities and workload shift daily, but her goals for after college are more constant; she wants to attend the Olympic trials in the 100-meter hurdles, and maybe even go to law school.
Struggling to balance roles as an athlete and as a student are common downfalls for runners. Young herself has dealt with her own problems resulting from her role as a collegiate athlete. Drake Track and Field assistant coach LaRon Bennett witnessed these issues and helped her through them.
“Her first year, she didn’t know what to expect, so she just ran hard and the success came with that quickly,” Bennett said. “Now she is in her second year and becoming more of a student of her events, so her successes are more gradual, which at times, for her, can be a bit frustrating.”
How is Young preparing to deliver her best performance so far this Relays? In four words: run, eat, study and sleep. Young’s day-to-day life consists of a jam-packed schedule consisting of three-hour practices, a demanding class schedule on top of several hours worth of homework and weightlifting — all while trying to maintain a social life.
Young somehow finds time to relax with friends and spend time with nearby relatives. Her hometown isn’t too far, hailing from Urbandale, which allows her to more easily balance family with school.
Young has been heavily supported throughout her track career. Bennett especially has had the opportunity to be a mentor and supporter for Young and sees great potential in her.
“She is one of the cornerstones for our team,” Bennett said. “Even though she is only a sophomore, her ability to place normally in the top three, in four to five different events gives our team major firepower.”
This spring, Young will run in the Drake Relays for the second time.
A number of factors go into deciding which Drake athletes get to participate in the Drake Relays and which don’t. The coaches usually take into consideration how well and how consistently the athletes have competed so far in the season. If the athlete participated in the Relays previously, their past performance is considered as well.
In the 2015 Drake Relays, Young missed qualifying for finals in the 100-meter hurdles by less than a tenth of a second. She also ran on the 4×100, 4×200 and the 1600-meter sprint medley relays teams.
When Young found out that she was going to be running in the Relays this week she was overjoyed, as the event could prove crucial to maintaining a successful track career.
“This is probably one of the only times that we get to run against the fastest people in the nation,” Young said. “You can either run fast and keep up, or let the pressure get to you and run slower than you usually do.”
She is focused on beating her current record, a time of 13.38, and making it to the final round of qualifications for the Olympic trials.
“I want to try for this year, but if I don’t get there this year then 2020 will be the next goal,” she said.
But Young doesn’t want to settle for 2020. She is determined to qualify for the Olympics this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a feat that requires continuous training and effort, something that is already required of Drake track athletes.
“We train year-round and everyday besides weekends, which is when we are usually running in meets,” Young said.
But staying in shape as well as being a record holder at Drake comes at a cost for Young. It has influenced her life in ways that haven’t always been preferable.
“I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of good food, parties and hanging out with friends who aren’t athletes,” she said. “Being a part of campus events (and) being a student-athlete is a full-time job.”
Young’s closest friends in college have usually been athletes because of the similarities in schedules and lifestyle choices, although much of her mentoring has come from elsewhere.
Bennett, for one, has helped Young reach her goals and pushed her to work her hardest, although other mentors have been a part of Young’s life for even longer.
“God and my family have been my biggest supporters through my whole career in track,” Young said. “My key to success is always God. Without him I wouldn’t have any of the successes that I have now.”
“I run for him. I always say a prayer before I run. That’s what keeps me sane at the line,” she continued. “Of course, my coaches (support me too), but they kind of have to.”
Bennett speaks highly of Young and foresees a successful career for her, both on and off the track.
“In the future, I see Mary becoming the best student-athlete she could possibly be and hopefully be remembered as one of Drake’s greatest athletes.”
This spring, Young has already competed in the 100-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles and in the 4×100 and 4×400 relays. She will likely compete in these same events this weekend when fans will have a chance to witness her break the school record and take one more stride towards reaching her goal of the Olympics.