Feb. 22, 2007
Three-time All-American and five-time All-Big Ten recipient Shani Marks made her "mark" on what would be a stellar Big Ten career, while also becoming one of the most highly decorated track and field athletes in Minnesota history. During her collegiate career in Minneapolis, Marks rewrote the record books in the triple jump five times en route to earning both indoor and outdoor All-America honors.
However, Marks didn't start out as a young girl competing in track. Instead she was a gymnast while growing up in Apple Valley, Minn.
"When I was a little girl, I started out in gymnastics," said Marks. "But, I was a really fast runner. So when I was in high school, my mother encouraged me to participate in track."
Marks eventually ended her gymnastics career but she was able to take what she learned to become one of the best jumpers in the state. As a senior in high school, she won the state long jump with a leap of 19'-1'', while also being named her school's Athlete of the Year.
Marks was able to continue her training as one of the top track athletes in the state when she decided to attend Minnesota.
"I really picked Minnesota because first and foremost, I saw all the opportunities they had for women," said Marks. "They had great facilities and wonderful coaches. I felt that Minnesota was my best chance to succeed."
After redshirting her freshman year, Marks became a strong competitor for the Golden Gophers. In her first two years, she captured Big Ten individual titles in the 600-meter run and triple jump, while also earning All-America honors at the 2002 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Despite the early success, Marks was determined to excel even more in her senior season. Minnesota interim head coach Matt Bingle joined the Golden Gopher staff during Marks' final season and faced many challenges of his own by coaching an athlete of her caliber.
"The first thing I had to do was to get Shani to trust me," Bingle said. "I did not want to do anything that would cause her to be uncomfortable, but I knew that if I could tweak a few technical things that she would improve."
And Marks did improve - adding a whole two feet to her jump heading into her senior year. During the 2003 season, her most successful at Minnesota, Marks began the year claiming All-America honors with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Her winnings did not end there as Marks also captured titles in the triple jump at the Drake Relays and the Big Ten Outdoor Championships. Her winning leap of 45'-3'' at Drake not only remains a Minnesota record, but was also the best jump by an American collegian in 2003. An amazing feat considering Marks overcame major back surgery prior to that season to be crowned the U.S. Champion in the triple jump.
"Jumping is by far my favorite thing to do," Marks said. "I always did more running than jumping. I think I got my strength to excel in the triple jump by running the 600 meters and the 400-meter hurdles."
Marks' talent extended further than just the triple jump. She captured runner-up finishes in the 600 meters at the 2003 Big Ten indoor meet and in the 400-meter hurdles at the conference's outdoor championships.
However, it was in a team event, the 4x400-meter relay, that Marks and three other talented sprinters would make Gopher history. The foursome of Marks, Lisa Michelson, Rachel Schutz and Kou Luogon ran to the Big Ten indoor title, marking the first conference relay crown in Minnesota history and gained strength as the outdoor season wore on.
The group broke the school record not once but twice while placing fifth at the prestigious Drake Relays. The record would be rewritten one more time in their final race of the season when the squad posted a time of 3:38.59 at the NCAA Midwest Regional.
"Our 4x400 meter relay team would have to be one of the most significant moments of my career," Marks said. "We all ran really fast and broke the school record that day at NCAA Regionals. This would be the last relay of my college career and being able to share that with our group is something I'll remember for a long time."
This, however, did not surprise Bingle on what Marks and the relay team were able to accomplish due to their relentless training regimen.
"Shani is the best all-around athlete I have ever coached in my entire life," Bingle said. "She is a fierce competitor and has the heart of a lion. She is a warrior when it came to practice and always wanted to be challenged physically. If she did not get dragged out of practice, it was not a very good day."
She would close out her collegiate career by placing second in the triple jump at the 2003 NCAA Championships, joining a list of seven Gopher student-athletes to garner national runner-up honors. The two-year team captain was so close to becoming the first national champion in Minnesota women's track and field history, but a great effort by Nebraska's Ineta Radevica in her final jump snagged the title from Marks' grasp.
"My most memorable moment of Shani was that she put her heart and soul into her final season," said Bingle. "She trusted me, worked extremely hard, and had fun competing everyday. There could not have been a better ending for her college career. It was a blessing to have her around."
So much of a blessing that she is now an assistant coach for the women's track and field program.
"Coaching is making me a better athlete," Marks said. "I pick up on things that the girls do and try to apply my coaching principles to my own training sessions."
Obviously talented athletically, Marks also earned national recognition academically. A three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, she was recognized as the Academic All-American of the Year in 2003. Marks also was named as one of Minnesota's recipients of the Big Ten Medal of Honor.
In 2002, Marks graduated from Minnesota with her bachelor's degree in public relations and would later complete her master's with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in applied kinesiology.
With a successful collegiate career behind her, Marks continues to strive for one more goal - to be an Olympian in 2008.
"I love everything about this sport and have such a passion to succeed," said Marks. "So I can't wait to keep working and training, so I can make it to the next step and be an Olympian."