Panther track and field star loves sport, gives to community: All-American overcame major injury
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College senior women’s track and field athlete Maddie Pronovost has enjoyed a strong year for the Panthers.
In the spring she competes in the heptathlon, a seven-event affair that tests track and field athletes’ strength, speed and stamina; in the winter her specialty is pentathlon, the five-event version of the multi-discipline event. In February she set the school record in the pentathlon.
The Brookline, Mass., resident recently concluded her indoor season by becoming an NCAA Division III All-American, thanks to a third-place finish in the pentathlon at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Recently, Pronovost sat down for a question-and-answer session with the Middlebury College Sports Information Department about her personal, academic and athletic background, and her goals for the future.
Middlebury College Head Track Coach Martin Beatty mentioned you were born in China during the time of the “one child policy.” How did this affect your family and your eventual journey to the United States?
My mom adopted me from Wuhan, China, when I was about four months old. She was at a point in her life where she knew she wanted to have children, but was not married. She realized that if she wanted that to happen, she needed to act quickly or she would run out of time. Because of the One Child Policy in China, many families were giving their girls up for adoption in the hopes they would be able to have a boy. Boys are preferred over girls since it is customary for them to take care of their parents as they age.
After my mom adopted me in 1995 as an infant, she realized that she really liked being a mother and wanted more children. She eventually adopted my younger brother Jimmy from Vietnam. He is currently a freshman at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. A few years later, she welcomed my younger sister, Esther who will attend Skidmore next year, from Lujow, China, into our growing family.
What attracted you to Middlebury?
I wanted to stay in New England, because the fall is one of my favorite times of the year with the leaves changing and crispness of the air. I also wanted to be in a place where snowboarding during the winter was possible. On my first visit to campus, I fell in love with the greenery and open spaces that Middlebury provides. I also really enjoyed the quaintness of the town of Middlebury.
When I met with Coach Beatty for the first time, he was so warm and welcoming, and the people who I had met on the team seemed very happy with their social, academic and athletic experience at Middlebury. It just seemed like the right fit.
What other activities do you participate both on and off campus?
I am a member of the Senior Committee as one of the Gift Co-Chairs responsible for fundraising for our class gift. This year, we are raising funds for the 2017 and 2017.5 Memorial Scholarship Fund in remembrance of classmates Nathan Alexander and Murphy Roberts.
I am the head lifeguard at the college’s natatorium, responsible for coordinating shifts with students. I also stay busy in biology professor Mark Spritzer’s lab, working with rats on the effects of testosterone on spatial memory. When I can find an hour, I volunteer for Head Start program at Mary Hogan Elementary School, which mainly involves me being chased by hyperactive 3-5 year olds. It is a lot of fun and keeps me young!
What are your post-graduation plans?
I want to attend graduate school for physical therapy in the spring of 2018. Middlebury’s neuroscience department had the most prerequisites that aligned with the required coursework for physical therapy graduate schools, which is one of the main reasons I wound up pursuing it here. I do not know yet where I’ll end up for graduate school, because there are great programs throughout the country, but it would be nice to end up on one of the coasts if possible, because I love being by the ocean.
How do you balance your academic class load with your athletic schedule?
In my first year, I found waking up early to do work in the mornings as well as between classes worked best for me. That was beneficial because I had introductory labs for my science classes in the afternoon. I have more flexibility to do work in the afternoons with not nearly as many labs.
I know that I have practice for a few hours, and that forces me to get as much work done before practice as possible. I know I’ll be tired and less inclined to get work done in a timely manner after practice. I do best when I am busy, and find that having a lot on my plate helps me with time management.
How did you discover your love for the heptathlon?
In high school, I did a few of the events that are included in multi-meets such as high jump, the 200-meter dash, and 100-meter hurdles. Like most sprinters and jumpers in high school, I always ended up doing at least three or four events in every meet. That got me accustomed to bouncing around from event to event. I liked doing that because it kept me busy and my mind occupied.
My junior year, our coach thought it was a good idea to have me do a heptathlon in the spring to see how I would do. I was miserable at throwing and the 800-meter run, but I placed fourth of 45 women with 3,380 points.
What do you think about while you are in the middle of a competition?
The two themes I have embodied this year are “fully present” and “go big.” I try not to think about anything besides the event that I am currently competing in, and really get myself excited to compete in whatever event is going on. I am not very competitive with other people, but I am much more competitive with myself.
I know that if I go out and have a great time with the goal of bettering my previous performance, I will do well. It is really important for me to have as much fun as possible doing every event, because the stress and anxiety of not doing well sort of fades away when you’re focusing on enjoying the sport.
Tell us about a memorable moment in competition.
There was a competitor from my rival high school that did most of the same events as I did. In our home dual meet against Newton North my junior year, we were going to run the 200-meter dash. That event still is my favorite race, and I really wanted to beat her. I never look at other runners when racing, but in this race, I snuck a peek to see where she was as we were coming off the curve and entering the straight. To my surprise, we were stride for stride, and ran toward the finish line. She ended up beating me by 0.02 seconds, but it was one of the most thrilling races.
My best collegiate experience happened just recently when my mom flew to the 2017 NCAA indoor championship to surprise me. I never let my mom watch me play sports since I was little because having her there made me nervous. I didn’t want to disappoint her or have her see me potentially get hurt. She is very respectful of my quirks and doesn’t show up to meets unless she can ensure that I won’t be able to find her.
When I was getting my All-American award, my mom sent me a text message saying that she was wondering when I was going to check my phone. I looked around frantically for a few minutes before she stood up in the bleachers and waved at me. I was so grateful that she flew there to watch me compete in the biggest meet of my life.
What might surprise us about your athletic successes?
My senior year of high school, I tore my right ACL and meniscus playing soccer. That took me out of track for the entirety of my senior year. Coming into college, I had very low expectations for how I was going to perform since I still had to wear a knee brace to stabilize it and prevent reinjuring it and my knee often hurt or would give out during practice and at meets. It was incredibly difficult mentally and emotionally to know that I was performing well below my capabilities my freshmen year, and I constantly had doubts that I was ever going to be able to be as fast or as strong as I was in high school.
HIGH JUMP IS one element of the five-part pentathlon (indoor) and seven-part heptathlon (outdoor) that Panther senior Maddie Pronovost excels at. The All-American who placed third at this winter’s NCAA Championship, says she competes more with herself than other athletes.
Photo Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics
It wasn’t until my junior year that I was finally physically strong enough to match and exceed my high school PRs (personal records). I’m really proud that I was able to stick with track long enough to finally come into my own, faster and stronger than I’ve ever been, and be a positive contributor to the team as I’ve always wanted to be able to do.
Editor’s note: This profile is courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics.
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