From Speedy Brit to All-American Athlete

Third-year Mary Martin’s dynamic attitude towards life has helped her cement an outstanding track and field career.

By Thomas Gordon

Hard worker, competitor, leader. These are just some of the words that are brought up in conversation from teammates about Mary Martin, a third-year sprinter on UChicago’s women’s track and field team. In her time at UChicago, Martin has strived to perform her best on and off the track. She has broken multiple school records as a member of relay teams and earned a UAA All-Academic Team place. Martin’s success derives from the methodical and positive attitude she takes when approaching life. Martin explains, “Hard work is also smart work. You need to work on the thing that will give you the most improvement.” 

Born and raised in England, Martin came across the pond to pursue her academic and athletic career at UChicago. She attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls and competed there. Since her high school days, Martin has excelled as both an individual and team scorer for the women’s track and field team. Her team and coaches laud her positive attitude and willingness to put the team before herself.  

Martin was born with track in her blood. She explains, “Track is a Martin family thing. My dad was a hurdler, my mum was a jumper and javelin thrower, my sister was a pole vaulter, my uncle was a sprinter, my grandfather was a high jumper, and apparently an ancestor of mine went to the 1912 Olympics for some jumping event.” It does not seem likely there was ever a choice in what Mary would excel at when she did her first 400-meter, “at about 13 months with a toddle truck and my mum had to nudge me around the bends because I hadn’t worked out how to turn yet.” She has since figured out how to work the bends of a track and is pretty good at it. 

Track has defined Martin’s life in many ways and has taught her valuable lessons throughout her time as a tracklete. One of the biggest lessons she learned was the value of hard work and how to be efficient with it. This aided her with school, where once it got tougher, she already knew that she just had to work harder at it. This efficiency of her work was vital for Martin to get to where she is today: “I knew from track that working hard is not about how many hours you put in, it’s how the hours you put in are used. There is no point working on the part of the long jump that you’ve mastered or doing the maths questions you already know how to do. You aren’t going to jump further or do better on the test by working on what you can already do.” 

Her style of work has inspired teammates as well to continually improve as they all push each other to be the best they can be. Ted Falkenhayn, a second-year jumper, states, “Mary is a great competitor and teammate who always pushes people to be better,” while close friend and teammate third-year Laura Darcey raves about her enthusiasm on and off the track. She has figured out how to get the best out of herself as a competitor while motivating her teammates to do the exact same.

Track has taught Martin how to win and how to lose. For any athlete, learning how to move on from defeat is vital to their career and mental well-being. Martin’s attitude to losing helps to explain how she got to where she is today: “Losing is part of life, and, in my opinion, is nothing more than a learning tool.” The ability to learn from failure is pivotal in life—Martin states about past experiences, “I have lost many races and bombed a few tests here and there. I feel sad for a hot sec, perhaps a mini-cry, analyze what went wrong and then learn from my mistakes. Losing is not an excuse to beat yourself up or dwell on your failings as a person.” With a sport as trying as track as well as UChicago academics, this mindset is extremely useful for Martin, and she feels that people cannot be afraid of failing. “There is a real culture at UChicago of being afraid to lose and fail, but I have learned more from getting questions wrong or from poor executions of jumps or races than I have from breezing through competitions or acing a test.” 

Martin’s fantastic season ended with her helping to set a new school record in the 4×400 relay at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track National Championships. Her relay finished in third place. This amazing result earned the speedy Brit the title of All-American athlete. Martin discussed the importance of acting graciously after a positive result instead of gloating: “Your parents and grandparents would probably love to hear about when things go well—tell them instead.” Hopefully they loved hearing about what an amazing season Mary and the rest of the track team had!