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Strong-willed Marks leads teammates

Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson received a phone call in April 1998 from Curtis Marks.

Wilson had recruited Marks’ daughter Shani to become a Gopher, but the coach was only able to offer a partial scholarship.

Upset with the offer and armed with the knowledge his daughter had received full scholarships elsewhere, Marks told Wilson things were not going to work out with Minnesota.

A few days later, Wilson received another phone call from the elder Marks. The father told Wilson his daughter was unhappy with him; she wanted to become a Gopher.

“Dad was upset because he wanted a full scholarship,” said Shani Marks, now a sprinter at Minnesota. “I was mad because he was mad. I never wanted him to make that phone call.

“I knew it wasn’t a big deal. Wilson said the scholarship would go up every year as my performance gets better and it has.”

Marks quickly ascended the ranks to become a key member of the Gophers squad. Minnesota heads to Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend to participate in the Drake Relays.

The junior earned the full scholarship her father sought and was recently named an Arthur Ashe scholarship recipient, presented to the top black student athletes across the nation. On the track, Marks has become a multiple Minnesota record holder.

“I am very hard working and determined,” Marks said. “Not always in terms of beating someone, but every time I do something I want it to be better than the last time. If it isn’t, I get mad.”

Marks suffered a slow start to her Minnesota career. She redshirted the 1998-99 indoor and outdoor season while recovering from back surgery, an injury Marks sustained during high school gymnastics.

“She is a gifted physical specimen,” assistant coach Sidney Cartwright said. “Coming off the back surgery, sometimes it will act up. But, she just has the desire and determination to continue going. She has a strong passion for competing and winning.”

Finally healthy, Marks’ determination has shown through, plastering her name across the Gophers record book. Marks is a member of the top indoor and outdoor 4×400-meter relay teams in school history and ranks second in school history in the triple jump for each season.

She has been a member of nine of the top 10 indoor 4×400 performances and has run in all top-ten 4×400’s outdoors.

Meanwhile, filling in for an injured Amber Day last weekend at the Mt. SAC Relays, Marks ran the opening leg of the 4×100-meter relay team, breaking another school record.

“She is a team leader,” junior Allyson DeVries said, “one of the best teammates you could have. She is willing to do anything necessary to make herself and her teammates better.”

While teammates respect the sprinter, Marks jokes she is used by her fellow athletes. Acting as team spokesperson, Marks has become the mediator between the team’s needs and the coach’s wants.

On Monday, Marks was able to meet the team’s requests by bargaining with Cartwright to skip a weight training session.

“I am really outgoing,” Marks said. “I say what is on my mind all the time. If I don’t think we should be doing a workout or if we need a day off I’ll tell them that. It hardly ever works though.”

While Marks’ determination has made her a success in track and in the classroom, being an extrovert has built a mutual respect between coaches, teammates and herself.

“I originally planned on not coming to Minnesota,” Marks said. “But, I felt like I had the best opportunities here. I saw an overall theme, which I still see. They care about the athletes and want the athletes to do well.”

The respect can be heard in Wilson’s words also.

“She is a great kid,” Wilson said. “Coach Cartwright and myself are very close with the Marks’. Shani comes from a great family. They have worked hard and appreciate the things they have. That’s why Shani is like she is.

“The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. She works for everything she gets.”

Luckily for the Gophers, Marks’ work included a talk with her father in the spring of 1998.

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