Marybeth Sant: A story of faith through the eyes of a sprinter

Luke Zahlmann

The road that led to Colorado State for Marybeth Sant required faith and perseverance through the highest of highs, to the low of possible medical retirement and loss of a dream.

A soccer player to start, Sant’s future lied on the pitch. The growth spurt to propel her to a glowing future in soccer never came and created an ultimatum for Sant. She could either continue to play soccer and risk injury, or use her natural speed in a different vice: track. An invite to a 4×100 relay team, and the success within the event by Sant showed her ability.

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Even without coaching, a star began to shine.

“(Her first coach) had no experience in track,” said Jay Sant, Marybeth’s father. “Both Jan and I ran in high school so I went out and bought a set of starting blocks and took her and the other three girls and taught them how to use them. Ultimately, Marybeth won the 100-meter dash, beating a girl that had never been beaten before.”

Sant poses on a track
Track & field star Marybeth Sant joins Colorado State as a graduate transfer for the 2017-18 season. (Photo courtesy of Marybeth Sant)

Following her first individual victory, Sant was taken under the wing of Tony Wells, a famous track coach in the Denver area. Despite little prior experience, the potential stood highly visible to those around Sant as her already developed running prowess left fellow coaches befuddled. Wells coached the Colorado Flyers, and after a friend of Sant’s grandfather wh0 grew up with Wells gave a ringing endorsement of him, Sant decided to join the Flyers.

Once high school began for Sant, she had to decide between running and playing soccer. With a love for the game of soccer, the choice for Sant proved extremely difficult. In the end, she decided to pursue track & field at Chaparral High School in Parker.

Coming into high school off a national championship, Sant attended a single year at Chaparral and due to coaching discrepancies chose not to run her freshman year if she could not be coached by Wells.

Yet another career-defining decision presented itself to Sant. She could stay put and lose the guidance of Wells, or transfer to Valor Christian, Colorado’s premier athletic and faith-driven high school. The choice developed into a relatively easy one for Sant as Valor presented an opportunity to strengthen her faith, as well as compete at a high level for her new coach and future life mentor, Brian Kula.

“Faith has been a (central piece),” said Jen Sant, Marybeth’s mother. “Faith has been the number one influence on every step that we have taken as a family. Even when Marybeth was young, she would always ask, ‘What am I meant to do?’ Faith has been the number one reason she is where she is now.”

Sant led by example at Valor, at one time holding the national record for fastest time in the 100-meter dash for high school runners. A silent leader, Sant displayed a work ethic that led her to be recruited by the biggest schools in the country, including Oregon and Texas Christian University.

Oregon is annually recognized as a leader in college track & field, but Sant leaned towards becoming a Horned Frog, without a plan to even visit Oregon. Eventually, Sant took her last visit to Eugene, and was instantly drawn to the school’s atmosphere. She committed to become a Duck and run for the top school in the nation.

Marybeth Sant begins her portion of a 4×100 relay at the University of Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Marybeth Sant)

The journey at Oregon began according to plan when Sant qualified for the national championships in the 100-meter her freshman year. Coming off the high of qualifying for the highest level of competition, Sant’s career became suddenly jeopardized with the threat of medical retirement looming. Sant suffered several different injuries while running at Oregon that prevented her from competing consistently at the university.

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“I kept getting stress fractures,” Sant said. “I broke my foot freshman year and then ran sophomore year but was still hurting. At the beginning of junior year, fall training, I had a stress fracture in my shin which is rare in sprinters. The doctor did a bone density scan and took my blood and I had osteopenia.”

The injuries were a jarring blow to Sant, who had gone her whole career without suffering any severe injuries. A different training program, one involving plyometric training, appeared to be the culprit for the sudden uptick in ailments for Sant. With a recommendation from a doctor to take time off and consider retirement, Sant leaned upon her foundation of faith for strength. 

“Her faith is why she is where she is,” Kula said. “What she really had to do when she was at Oregon was put her money where her mouth was a little. She had to lean on the faith she has and she is seeing now that God was with her through all of it.”

A coaching staff in Fort Collins answered the faith of Sant and welcomed her with open arms into Colorado State University as a graduate transfer. Despite two sisters graduating as Rams, Sant credited the coaching staff for being the reason she chose to return to Colorado and finish her collegiate track career under sprinting coach Karim Abdel Wahab.

A new home identified itself at CSU as a more family-orientated atmosphere made the transition easier for Sant.

“I love it (here),” Sant said. “It is very upbeat, it has tradition, it is a community. That is outside of the track world, but (CSU) is definitely awesome.”

Throughout the transferring process, Kula has remained a guiding light and even hosted her at his house over the summer. In many regards, Kula considers Sant to be a daughter to him and part of the family, showing the impact that Sant has had on those around her.

Sant is currently working her way back to full strength aided by the rest she utilized after leaving Oregon and supplements to return her thyroid, bone marrow and iron levels to where they were prior to her stint away from Colorado. Despite the long journey and adversity that Sant faced, there are no regrets in the chooses she has made.

“I learned so much,” Sant said. “I have matured a lot. I hit rock bottom in the sport I love and it got ripped from me. (I learned) not to take things for granted and it humbled me. Having something you love taken away is very humbling.”

Sant will look to gain her footing again in the track world and instill the lessons she has learned on her new teammates at Colorado State.

An Olympic dream is still very much alive through the turmoil of injuries, and Sant will push towards her dream of competing for the United States of America as a Ram and former Duck. Refusing to let bumps along the road end a dream has turned Sant into a persevering member of the track community and her faith will continue to lead her through the light and dark moments along the way.

Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.