BY Katie Maryschuk
She is no stranger to running and certainly familiar with what it takes to go the distance.
Meet Mirelle Martens. As a first-year athletes on the women’s cross country and track and field teams, she is already making her way to the top of the pack. However, before she arrived at Trinity Western and before her impressive early season results on the cross country trails, there’s the story that explains how she came to find running and her incredible journey since.
Martens’ interest in running didn’t blossom until Grade 11, when she started running with her high school team. However, her focus was not entirely set on the sport as she took interest in playing club volleyball and soccer as well. Despite spending time competing in other sports and having never previously competed in an outdoor track and field season, Martens claimed gold in the 3000m and silver in the 1500m at the 2013 Alberta High School Championships. Then, in Grade 12, she won the Alberta high school cross country provincials and repeated her performance on the track, winning gold and silver at the provincial championships.
Despite her success on the track, she still had a passion for team sports. “I grew up playing soccer and volleyball, since I was six and in sixth grade, respectively”, Martens, 19, says. So, the decision to focus solely on an individual sport was not an option.
In 2014-15, Martens competed as a dual-sport athlete, playing soccer and running with the cross country team, at Grande Prairie’s Regional College, just northwest of Edmonton. Having grown up in Grande Prairie, GPRC was a natural fit coming out of high school in 2014. She found the balance between daily runs and competing on the soccer team and, at one point, even flew from the Alberta Collegiate Athletics Conference (ACAC) soccer provincials to cross country provincials, all in one weekend. However, training for cross country became a full-time daily devotion in college – something the largely differed from her once-a-week training efforts in high school. Soon enough, Martens focus started to shift.
“When it came time enroll in college or university, Martens chose GPRC for her first year because it allowed her to play soccer and run, and it was close to home,” says GPRC cross country coach Bill Corcoran. “The year she spent (here) allowed her to transition to post-secondary and finally get all of those other sports out of her system.”
In her first year at GPRC alone, Martens won an individual gold medal and a team gold medal at the ACAC cross country provincial championships and moved on to the CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association) championships in Calgary. There, she once again finished first, winning the five-kilometre event at Confederation Park in 18:29. Her result not only earned her top spot in the CCAA, but also qualified her for the national junior cross country championships at Jericho Beach in Vancouver. Her impressive run of success continued at the national junior championships, as she placed third, which put her on Canada’s national junior team, where she had the opportunity to compete in Colombia at the Pan American Cross Country Cup and China at the World Cross Country Championships.
Wearing the Canadian singlet across the globe, Martens had the chance to meet Trinity Western alumnus Fiona Benson. At that time, in the spring of 2015, Benson, who also transferred from TWU after one year at GPRC, was completing her fifth and final year of eligibility with the Spartans. This connection was the spark for Martens and her journey to become a Spartan began.
At the time, Martens had a huge decision to make: Should she attend West Virginia University or go to a small private liberal arts school in Langley, B.C.?
“Mirelle's journey here for us was quite a surprise,” says Spartans endurance coach Mark Bomba. “She had (verbally) committed to one of the top female programs in the NCAA in West Virginia University, (but) after she went to the world cross country championships with Fiona, she made a decision to take the CIS route and come here. At last year's TWU awards banquet I received information she had apparently changed her mind and I really couldn't believe my ears.”
For Martens, choosing to come to TWU felt natural and right.
“I loved what West Virginia was offering – it felt great. But at one point I realized what I wanted as a runner, and knew that I could progress well at TWU,” Martens says. “The cool part of meeting Fiona and the whole Team Canada experience was that she never tried to convince me to come to TWU. There was a level of genuine interest in where I wanted to go, and she listened to me and never tried to sell her school. She honestly wanted me to be happy wherever I went and was encouraging with that.”
After making her decision to come to TWU, Martens redirected her focus to the outdoor track season.
“Track was never really a huge deal for me and so making the decision to pursue an outdoor season was a big thing” Martens says.
With her efforts solely on the 2015 outdoor season, Martens went to the Canadian junior track and field championships with dreams of earning a spot on Canada’s team for the 2015 Pan American Junior Championships. After earning a bronze in the 5000m, she finished a disappointing eighth place in the 3000m. Martens left the track with her Pan American dreams seemingly dashed. However, not long after the race finished she discovered that she still had a chance of progressing to represent Team Canada once again. Amongst the seven girls who placed ahead of her, a few were not age-eligible to qualify, a few had not made the competition standard – 9:50 – and one was already competing in another event at the Pan American championships.
Fortunately for Martens, earlier in the season she had clocked a standard-making 3000m time of 9:42.08 in Victoria and, with the chips falling in her favour, she was awarded a place on Team Canada for the Pan American championships in Edmonton.
Once she arrived in Edmonton, she was set on proving she belonged. And belong she did. Martens earned silver medal in the 3000m, crossing the line in 9:41.20 and became the first TWU-bound athlete to win a medal at the Pan American junior championships.
That set the stage for her arrival at TWU.
Coming into the fall cross country season, Martens was a star-in-the-making and Bomba had big hopes for both the women’s and men’s teams.
“We were expecting to go into a rebuild year after losing Fiona and Alison Jackson but with [Mirelle] signing we went straight back into the mindset that another shot at being the podium was a reality,” Bomba says. “Mirelle not only brings a great running work ethic and placing abilities to the team, but also good character and personality. She's amazingly easy to coach and shows up to practice every day with a smile. She has fit right in with her teammates and has an infectious personality.”
Corcoran adds: “Mirelle has always had the mindset of a champion. I don’t think she’s ever been in a race that she didn’t think that she could finish among the top runners. The biggest things in her development were getting her in better quality races and getting her some racing experience. From the get-go, I’ve always thought of (her) as a top national contender.”
This weekend she’ll have a chance to prove Corcoran right against the very best university runners in Canada.
Martens will be a part of the No. 2 ranked Spartans contingent at the upcoming CIS Cross Country Championships hosted by Guelph University on Saturday. Alongside the likes of TWU’s Sarah Inglis, Lisa Brooking and Regan Yee, she will help lead the Spartans into this weekend’s competition as a strong contender for the title.
For Martens, her Spartans career begins in earnest this weekend and, by all accounts, she is more than ready to take that next step in her running journey.