Maya Stephens was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and currently lives in New York City where she trains and competes professionally. She's been running track since I was 15. She attended St. Roch Catholic Secondary School and St. John's University.
After all that you've accomplished, what drives you to continue running?
I’m a natural born perfectionist so I’m always trying to become a better athlete and continue to improve my times. So even though it may seem like I have accomplished a lot, I am always trying to do more.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don't feel like running?
On those days, I tell myself that there are days like those that’ll make me a better athlete mentally. I also remind myself that not every day is going to be easy, but in the end it will all be worth it.
What are your goals for the upcoming year?
Well after Worlds, I plan on taking a nice little break and then getting back to training for World Indoors and hopefully the Olympics.
What made you choose to run the 400?
I always find this question funny because I initially started out as a 100 meter specialist. I could barely even run a 200. It was not until my junior year of college where I had hurt my hamstring and couldn't do any short sprints. I was out for almost 2 months and my first race back was a 400. I ran it and happened to qualify for the NCAA East Regional meet. The following year, my coach and I decided that it would be in my best interest to really commit to the 400. It's been almost two years since that conversation and I’m so glad I switched over.
With all the athletes in the world, what's it like to be ranked in the top 100 for the 400?
It's truly a blessing. I’ve sacrificed a lot for track and it feels good to see that it wasn't for nothing. I still can't believe it sometimes.
What was one of the biggest hurdles to overcome while balancing track and school at St. John's?
I was pretty lucky as St. John's when it came to balancing my academic and athletic lives. We had a great academic support staff that helped accommodate our track schedule and classes. I would say my senior year was a bit tough because I was doing an internship in lower Manhattan and balancing classes and practice, but it really helped me with my time management skills.
What has been your most memorable race to date?
I think a lot of people would think my most memorable race would be running at World Relays or even Canadian Nationals, but I was really nervous for both of those so they typically went by in a blur! My most memorable race would definitely be at the 2015 Canadian U20 National Championships. I had gone into the meet without the qualifying time for the Junior Pan Am Games but I made it into the final and ended up getting second place, and running the qualifying time! It was the first national team that I made, so I will always remember that feeling.
What does your weight training consist of and which exercise do you feel helps your running the most?
My weights program mostly consists of power lifts, especially deadlifts and cleans. I definitely think cleans and split jerks are the best exercises for speed because they help with explosiveness.
What's the weirdest or funniest thing that ever happened to you while running?
The funniest and most embarrassing thing to ever happen to me while running was when I fell in a 4x200 meter relay at the NYRR Millrose Games my freshman year. The announcers kept replaying it as well, I thought I was going to die of embarrassment but looking back on it now, I find it hilarious.
What's your favorite types of fuel before a race?
I typically don't eat much before I race, but if I do, I love fruits or trail mix. My favorite is the cocoa banana trail mix from 7/11.
What's your favorite cheat food & drink?
Definitely mac and cheese! I absolutely love all types of mac & cheese so it's my favorite cheat food! In regards to drinks, it would have to be strawberry lemonade.
What venue has been your favorite to race at?
I really like racing at Franklin Field at Penn Relays! Even though the weather isn't always the greatest, the atmosphere is unmatched and the crowd is so energetic.
What's it like to represent your country on some of the biggest stages in the sport?
It's amazing. I always thank God for blessing me with the talent to get there. Canada is such an amazing country that is rooted in acceptance, freedom and love, so being able to wear the maple leaf on my chest and represent this country is really a feeling that can't be matched.
Who would you say is the funniest teammate?
This is a hard one! We all have our individual quirks, especially when we have our game nights.
Do you like ice baths?
I hate ice baths! It's mostly because I hate the cold, but in college, the head trainer of athletics told me that they were ineffective for recovery because they slowed blood flow down and that hot baths were much better. So I rarely take ice baths unless it is to get rid of soreness.
In your free time when you’re not running, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
I like to read a lot. I recently challenged myself to read one book a month for August, I’m re-reading Outliers by Malcome Gladwell. It's probably my 5th time reading it, but it's such an amazing read.
What's the most important tip you like to give new runners?
Do the extra work! I know it sounds simple, but it's the little things that really make a difference. Those extra runs, doing rehab and recovery stuff, getting rest, it all makes a huge difference in the long run.
When it comes to running, what would you say is your biggest strength and weakness?
I would say my biggest strength would have to be my mental strength. I have been working on it a lot this year, and it has helped me a lot when it comes to the bigger meets/races. My biggest weakness would have to be my lack of patience. I know that sounds silly for track, but there are times where my 100 meter sprinter side comes out and I just want to run all out in the first part of my race, when in reality that's a terrible thing to do in a 400 because I have a whole 300 to go.
Who is someone you look up to in the sport?
I really look up to my coach, Aliann Pompey. She went to the Olympics four times in the 400. Thats over 16 years of training and dedication; that is super inspiring.
Who is one of your favorite athletes to train with?
I have my training partner Ashley Kelly, who I love training with because she is always encouraging me during hard workouts. I also enjoy training my myself sometimes.
If you could compete in one Field event, which would you choose?
I always wanted to try high jump! It looks like so much fun, but I’m super uncoordinated so I doubt I’d be good at it.
What can you tell us about FitCurls?
FitCurls is my fitness/wellness page that I run with my best friend Pariis Garcia! We offer online personal training in addition to diet and wellness tips. We recently started curating monthly workout playlists as well!
What's next for Maya Stephens?
Hopefully running at World Championships in Doha to finish off this season.
Click the links below to keep up with Maya Stephens
Published September 14, 2019