Olympic heptathlete in Games second time

Learning to work hard as a child helped prepare her for supreme effort of contest

As a little girl growing up in Trinidad, Marsha Mark began saving soda bottle tops in a desperate attempt to win a bicycle.

Then her dad offered her a different solution. If she could win her age division in a neighborhood 5K race, he would buy the bicycle. The race was not her first; her parents had entered her in other local races, held on the dead-end streets near her house. But this race was different and she practiced and practiced.

"We would run on the asphalt," she recalled. "I ran barefoot quite a bit."

Her hard work for the 5K race was not in vain. She won, running faster than even the neighborhood boys.

That night she waited for her dad to come home, immediately spotting her bicycle. Looking back today she speculates that he had purchased the bicycle some time before and was saving it for a special occasion.

As with everything, she said, he wanted her to know "I had to work for it."

Today that work has paid off, as Marsha Mark-Baird — a former BYU heptathlete — prepares for her second Olympic competition in the Athens Summer Games — representing Trinidad and Tobago.

A convert to the Church, she started competing in the heptathlon after enrolling in Ricks College in 1993. Two years later she transferred to BYU in Provo, where she graduated in 1997 and received a master's degree of social work in 1999.

She said it was the hard work she learned as a child that helped her compete in athletics. At Ricks College, she had to learn to do hurdles, high jump and shot put.

"It was very stressful," she recalled. "My first couple of weeks I cried everyday in practice."

However, she picked everything up in three months and, before she knew it, was "breaking school records."

Sister Baird said she entered the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney — where she also competed for Trinidad and Tobago — shy, but amazingly confident.

"I stayed really focused," she said. "But still it was a little stressful. All I did was practice and eat and sleep."

This time around she hopes to have a little more fun, do a little sightseeing. She is also comforted to know that another former BYU heptathlete, Tiffany Lott-Hogan, will also be participating in the Games as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team.

Sister Baird said she wants to enjoy the Games for another reason — she knows they will be her last. Even though she expects to stay in shape after the Olympics, she and husband, Gregory Baird, hope to start a family.

She then plans to tell her children about her youth in Trinidad, where she learned to run, racing against the neighborhood boys — and winning.

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