By Olivia Frasier
At 5:45 am, long before the thought of waking up has crossed most college students' minds, Jake Francis is jolted awake by the sound of his alarm. Track practice starts in 45 minutes; he needs to get out of bed, eat breakfast, and hurry to the school in time for practice. His wife, Maddy, all too familiar with the sound of the alarm, must also leave the comforts of bed so she can take care of their two-month-old son, Tyler. Maddy used to leave for practice with Jake, but decided to trade in her role as a runner for the role of a mother last year.
Jake and Maddy have been following a similar routine long before they earned their spot on the Southern Utah University track team. They both began running almost ten years ago, beginning in either Jr. High or High school. They have become accustomed to the long miles, difficult practices, and after practice study sessions, but what about parenthood? This summer Maddy and Jake welcomed their beautiful little boy into the world, merging their lives as student-athletes with the world of diapers and bottles. For most, being a student-athlete is challenging enough, but for Maddy and Jake, their life just did not feel quite complete without adding “parent” to the title. A day in the life of Maddy and Jake may look quite different than your average college student.
Jake heads off to his typical practice of ten miles and occasionally, another workout afterward. From there, Jake rushes straight to school for his classes. He has about an hour break where he can either eat lunch, go home, or relax before he finishes up classes for the day. Halfway through the day, after training and studying, he heads home to “take over baby duty” so that Maddy can go exercise. In the afternoon, Jake will usually go for a second run of around two or three miles, then head home to get ready for his Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) meetings or weight training depending on the day has in store for him. SAAC is a leadership committee for student-athletes. In Jake’s words, the SAAC is “Pretty much just like student government for athletics. I’m president and I have a vice president and a secretary, and then each team has a few representatives. On Monday, I go to meetings. Every other Thursday, I have meetings with the athletic administration, and every third Sunday I meet with the Big Sky, so I’m always on Zoom meetings with the administration.”
Jake has the opportunity through SAAC to make an impact on not only SUU athletes, but the NCAA as a whole. Between Jake's classes, practices, weight training, and meetings, he tries to get in as much homework and studying as possible. It is difficult to make time for everything, and it takes crucial time-management skills and planning to succeed. “Everything I do, everything I eat is dependent on what I am doing that day. I plan my meals, my homework schedule, and everything else around what workouts I will be doing the next day.” Although Jake's life as an athlete and a dad is undoubtedly crazy, he believes it has all been worth it “Watching yourself get faster is super rewarding, but the friendships I have made on the track and cross country team are the most rewarding, that is what I am going to miss the most.”
As for Maddy, her days used to look very similar to Jakes, with practices and classes filling up most of the day. But this past year, she made the decision to give up her life as a professional runner. It was an emotional choice to end her time on the SUU track team. “I decided not to do my last track season,” she revealed, “partly because I wanted to be a mother, but also because I was injured and I started going through some mental issues. I had experienced these issues before and I was able to overcome them, but when I got injured again I started to relapse. I was worried about my image all the time. I wasn’t performing well and I just kept blaming it on my weight. As a distance runner, there is a lot of emphasis on your weight related to your performance. I was kind of obsessed with it, so I decided to quit. It wasn’t worth it to be stressing so much. I still have hard days that I worry about my image, but being a mother really has put things into perspective.”
Motherhood has done anything but slow Maddy down. Up until Maddy was eight months pregnant, she ran upwards of five miles a day and biked around 14-20. About a week after giving birth, she began exercising again. “I just am trying to build up my mileage again, I want to keep running. I think I’m always going to be competitive and I want to start racing again... I have about two hours during my day to myself to do that, it really helps me function throughout the day.” The rest of Maddy’s routine centers around Tyler and making sure he is taken care of and happy. The transition into motherhood is always a tricky one, but Maddy has embraced the obstacles and the new life that it has brought her. “At first I was really scared because I always identified myself as a runner, so it was really hard between when I quit and when I got pregnant because I felt like I didn’t have any sort of role or purpose. I was an athlete and then I wasn’t. When I got pregnant though I was like ‘I’m a mom now, and I run on the side.’ It gave me a new role that took over my life in a really positive way’”
Both Jake and Maddy say that the mental stamina that comes from being a runner is something that has benefited them significantly in their transition to parenthood. “Running is such a mental game, you have to push things and you have to do things when they’re uncomfortable and just trust the process,” Maddy remarked. Their child has also given them a new purpose in their life and in their sport. “It has been super cool, I feel like I have a different pride. I joke to my teammates that ‘I don’t want to be slow because I don’t want my kid to think I’m slow’” Jake said jokingly “But there really are times that things are really hard and I’m like ‘Okay, if I want my son to do hard things then I have to do hard things too.’” Maddy and Jake continue to work together on their new adventure of parenthood and make sure to support each other in their crazy lives.
For most new parents, the path to learning how to raise a newborn can be tricky, but Jake and Maddy have received help on many different fronts. Teammates, friends, and family members have all pitched in to support Jake and Maddy. They have also been significantly grateful for the help of SUU and its donors who have given them the opportunity to run and compete throughout their college career. “I’m just incredibly thankful for the donors,” Jake remarked “Families like the Lopours and others that provided us with opportunities that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. They make all the difference.” These donors have allowed Jake and Maddy, along with countless other athletes to be part of something bigger than themselves. They hope to someday give back to the SUU community in the way the community and donors gave to them. They are forever grateful for these privileges and are incredibly thankful to run for a college that provides the resources to perform on the field, in the classroom, and with their new baby boy.