A feat that occurred two years ago still helps push Seattle University track and field athlete Maia Sparkman.
Whenever Sparkman, a 2014 graduate of South Whidbey High School, is in need of extra motivation during a tough workout with the Division I program, she thinks back to when her 1,600-meter relay team broke an 18-year-old South Whidbey school record at the 2014 state 1A track and field championships.
“I always just think of that moment and how great of a feeling that was,” Sparkman said. “That always gives me hope that it’s going to be worth it and it will pay off because my team was able to make it happen in high school.”
Sparkman, a sophomore, competes in the 400-meter, long jump and 1,600-meter relay for the Redhawks. She recently wrapped up the indoor track season at the Western Athletic Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships in Nampa, Idaho and is gearing up for the outdoor season.
Sparkman’s lifestyle is far different from the average college student. During season, she practices twice a day and spends her weekends competing in meets all across the Pacific Northwest. The demands and discipline have made her a better student, Sparkman said. She’s currently working toward a degree in environmental studies and a minor in biology.
Sparkman is still awestruck when she lines up against athletes from schools such as the University of Washington, Oregon State and UCLA. Though it was a sight she never envisioned herself seeing in high school, it serves as a reminder of how far she’s come.
Sparkman originally aspired to play collegiate soccer, but said she became burnt out with the sport after years playing it. She competed in track and field for the Falcons for only two years, though it was enough to spark a light in her. The record-setting relay team consisting of Madi Boyd, Jaime Rodden, Mackenzie Hezel and her placed fourth at state, and she placed seventh in the long jump.
“She came in and she was really raw. We had to break her form down and teach her how to do a lot of the events she does. There’s struggles that go with that, but she was somebody who stayed motivated and continued to get better.”
Seattle University track and field
Her marks were enough to grab the attention of the Redhawks’ coaching staff, who invited Sparkman to compete as a recruited walk-on.
Falcon head track and field coach Mark Eager was happy to see Sparkman seize the opportunity and run with it.
“I’m certainly proud to see one our kids from the island competing at such a high level, especially considering how few kids make it,” Eager said in an email.
All of the buzz from her record-setting performance couldn’t keep Sparkman from anxiously anticipating her first workout with the team. But she was comforted when she saw fourth-year veterans dealing with similar emotions. It was those same athletes who took Sparkman under their wing when she arrived on campus. She said she was welcomed to the team with a friendly environment.
“They just made me feel like I was at home and they encouraged me through all the workouts,” Sparkman said. “I was so scared for the workouts and what they were going to be like because I knew it was going to be so different than what the workouts were in high school.”
“I just felt like I had a place automatically in the school,” she added.
Sparkman’s coaches immediately went to work on crafting her form and fixing minute details such as her warmup routines.
One of the first things to be addressed was her running form, which was that of a soccer player. Her form in the long jump was also improved.
Her sprints and jumps coach, Chad Pharis, said Sparkman was the prototypical athlete they look for in recruits. Her inexperience and natural ability with the sport were evident.
“She came in and she was really raw,” Pharis said. “We had to break her form down and teach her how to do a lot of the events she does. There’s struggles that go with that, but she was somebody who stayed motivated and continued to get better.”
One thing that didn’t need mending was her work ethic, Pharis said, where he feels she is a leader despite being an underclassman.
“She usually comes in being one of the best in shape,” Pharis said. “It teaches her how to push through little things that come up and don’t go quite right. Regardless of what’s happening, she’s giving 100 percent every time.”
Pharis said her freshman season was geared toward relearning and refining her technique, while her sophomore season has been about applying it. Sparkman’s progression over the last two seasons gives her hope. Her biggest accomplishment came during her freshman season when she helped the 4×100-meter team break the school record with a time of 48.24, a second and a half faster than the previous mark.
She also set personal bests in the 400 and long jump at the conference championships.
Sparkman hopes to keep improving with each season and peak by her junior and senior seasons, while also maintaining her grades and the friendships she’s built with teammates, whom see calls her best friends.
Though the outdoor season begins for the Redhawks on March 18, Sparkman will put it on hiatus. She’ll be traveling to Ecuador on March 16 for around 10 days to help reforest the city through a project in her major.
“It will be super cool, I’m excited,” Sparkman. “Everything we’ll be building will be to improve the environment. We’ll be helping students build greenhouses and teach the locals about the environment.”