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HomeSportAnchorage’s Mary Parks balances life as a multi-sport athlete

Anchorage’s Mary Parks balances life as a multi-sport athlete

Mary Parks

From the hardwood to the oval to the cross country course, Anchorage’s Mary Parks is one of the few multi-sport athletes on the college scene competing year-round.

Parks, a senior at Bethany College, got an early start in sports, picking up basketball in the second grade before adding cross country and track and field two seasons later.

“I really got into sports because I loved competing at a young age,” said Parks. “I never really liked to sit still.”

As the seasons progressed, Parks refined her skills during her prep career at ACS, which has since been renamed to Mountain City Christian Academy.

On the basketball court, the former ACS Lion was part of a nearly unbeatable team that culminated with a three-peat of 3A championships from 2017-2019, where Parks achieved all-tournament honors and was named among the players of the game all three times.

Parks’ work ethic contributed to the team’s success alongside fellow ACS legends Destiny Reimers and Jordan Todd, who now play for UAF and Northwestern State. The Lions created a powerhouse that would be carried on by Sayvia Sellers’ reign with four undefeated seasons, extending the program’s win streak to 122.

“I think playing sports at ACS and having the opportunity to travel out of town helped a lot with getting the exposure needed to play in college,” said Parks. “The fast pace that we played at ACS really helped a lot.”

ACS’ Mary Parks competes against Nikiski during the 2019 ASAA March Madness Alaska 3A State Championships. Photo by ACS Lions Athletics

During her prep career, Parks averaged 11.6 points, 1.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game, according to MaxPreps. Some of her highlights include scoring a career-high 31 points against Mt. Edgecumbe and posting a double-double against Soldotna, amassing 15 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals.

On the track, Parks also flourished, surrounded by standout teammates Tanner Ealum, Elizabeth Balsan, and Carissa Houck who combined for an astounding 20 track and field event titles, in addition to claiming the team title in 2016. Not to mention, ACS is one of the few medium-sized schools that competes despite not having a track.

Over four years, Parks toed the line at the track and field state meet in four different events, culminating in 14 events and six medals. Three times Parks helped the Lions to a runner-up finish in relays — twice in the 4×100 (’18 & ’19) and once in the 4×200 (’18). Individually, her highest finishes included a pair of fourth places in the 100 (’17) and triple jump (’17).

Parks competed at the cross country state meet all four years, helping the Lions to a third-place finish in 2015. In total, Parks collected 14 wins in athletics during her prep career, ranging from 100 meters to the 5K. She also competed in volleyball during her prep career.

The versatility displayed by Parks has undoubtedly helped her transition to the college scene, resulting in a strong-minded student-athlete.

When it came to committing to a program, Parks narrowed her focus towards getting recruited for basketball, eventually settling on Bethany College, located in Lindsborg, Kan.

“I liked the coach’s perspective of the game and the girls on the team were super accepting and supportive,” said Parks. “They all made the team feel like a family.”

And while Parks experienced adversity in her first season, including mending a broken foot, dealing with the impacts of the pandemic and reframing her basketball goals while on the junior varsity squad, with every challenge, Parks returned stronger.

On the court, the 5-foot-1 point guard often led her squad in minutes, points, or free throws. One of her strongest games came against Cloud County Community College, using a trey to tie the score and press the Thunderbirds as the teams headed towards halftime. Parks was one of two Swedes to reach double-figures that game, scoring 11 points.

Bethany College multi-sport athlete Mary Parks. Photos by Bethany College Athletics & Mary Parks

On the track, Parks has competed both indoors and outdoors, collecting points at the KCAC Championships on three occasions. So far, she has finished in the top-3 six times and competed in ten different events. Parks’ personal bests have also improved since high school, bettering her triple jump and long jump by over two feet, while recently debuting in the 60 and 400.

Parks ranks fifth in program history in the outdoor triple jump (33 feet, 10 inches), sixth in the outdoor long jump (16 feet, 7 inches) and indoor 400 (1:07.06), seventh in the 60 (8.28) and eighth in the 100 (13.08).

And if three sports seasons were not already impressive, Parks also competes in cross country for Bethany College, adding the sport along with outdoor track and field during her junior year. Parks’ coach had initially invited her to compete at the KCAC Championships before her season was halted due to the pandemic.

With four seasons on her plate, Parks has learned to multi-task, leaning on her distinctive experience from her prep career.

“I think I managed to be a multi-sport athlete in college by being a multi-sport athlete growing up,” said Parks. “Being able to switch the dynamic but also have the passion and love for sports made the transition easy for me.”

In terms of training, Parks’ skills were also translated between each sport, building strength and speed as a sprinter while also developing precision as a point guard.

“Basketball helped build more of a competitive aspect and track helped me with basketball speed,” said Parks. “It helped me activate muscles (that) I wasn’t using in either sport and helped keep me from getting injuries.”

The ability to stay focused while training year-round and balancing academics can be arduous, however, it is a feat even more remarkable considering Parks’ high-level goals. And while this year will be her first without basketball, Parks plans to go all-in on the track, aspiring to finish on a strong note.

“I’m hoping to break school records in track and hopefully make it to nationals, but also keep my grades up and get accepted into nursing school,” said Parks.

Mary Parks in the starting blocks prior to the 100-meter dash. Photo by Bethany College Athletics

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