For some track and field competitors, their focus lies in a single event. Sometimes they pride themselves solely on their speed or jumping ability. For Theresa Mayanja, this could not be farther from the truth.
The junior from Bothell, Wash. is a do-it-all star for the Michigan women’s track and field team. During her freshman campaign, she finished ninth at the Big Ten Championships in the heptathlon. Last winter, she built upon her already impressive resumé with a fifth-place result in the pentathlon at the Power Five Invitational.
She believes that the 100 meter hurdles is her strongest event, while the 800 meter race can prove a bit more challenging.
“The 800 is hard for a number of reasons,” Mayanja said. “We don’t train as much specifically for the 800 as I do for hurdles. I’ll train for hurdles twice a week. And for the 800 … maybe once a week. It has a different impact on your body and also the 800 is the seventh event on the second day, and so you’re just exhausted.”
Mayanja takes these obstacles and turns them into opportunities. Even if she’s not having her best day on hurdles, she can still compensate with strong efforts elsewhere.
It is particularly important for her to stay concentrated during practice. She has to train for so many different events that command so many different skill sets.
“I have a lot of fun knowing that I’m going to come to practice and in one training day I’m going to work on maybe three events,” Mayanja said. “The whole point of training 20 plus hours a week is to have the body memorization and the repetition to execute when you’re in the race.”
As a multi-event athlete, it is also vital that she maintains a healthy body. This can be tricky, though, especially considering the demands of pentathlons and heptathlons.
She has a great deal of trust in her coaches and trainers, too. But ultimately, it comes down to her own actions.
“It’s definitely hard on your body,” Mayanja said. “Since it is so hard on your body, you need to make sure that when you’re at practice, you’re being intentional with every single rep. It’s definitely more quality over quantity because you don’t want to break your body down.”
Despite her already rigorous practicing schedule, Mayanja was tasked with overcoming another hurdle last spring.
Like for the rest of the country, her outdoor season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is even more difficult because of the specific equipment track and field athletes often require.
Regardless of this setback, she has remained focused on training. This is a tribute not only to her work ethic, but the strong foundation her coaches have built for the team.
“I think that COVID has been a little bit of a barrier in terms of training whenever we’re not at the facility,” Mayanja said. “Our coaches will work with us on little drills to just teach our body to mimic the things that we would do if we had the actual equipment.”
In addition to the coaching staff’s adjustments, Mayanja has leaned heavily on her teammates. On the surface level, track and field appears to be more independent than other sports. However, the Wolverines see themselves as a united team.
“It’s really cool because even though it is an individual event I see these people every single day,” Mayanja said. “I see them for, I don’t know, maybe a four hour practice. I see them at their highest and their lowest. I see them struggle, I see them thrive and you really get to know people. It creates a really strong connection.”
This tightly-knit group allows for Mayanja to maximize her potential while also serving as motivation to succeed in events that are, at their core, about the individual.