Winners Never Quit, and Quitters Never Win
“My childhood dreams were to come to the U.S., and to ride a horse. So when I came to the U.S. and rode a horse, I thought yes, I made it, my dreams came true,” laughs Marsha Mark Baird (BS ’97, MSW ’99). Though her childhood dreams were simple, Baird has spent most of her life challenging her own expectations and achieving lofty goals. Tests came with every new goal, but the support of others and the whisperings of the Spirit led her to many “Cinderella moments,” including competing in two Olympic games and setting a relay world record in the 2016 Masters meet. She says, “If I set [a] goal, that goal is something that sticks with me until I accomplish it, and it sticks with me every single day at practice. Not just this week, or next month, every single day.”
“My dad told me if I won my sixth grade 5K run, he would buy me a bicycle,” Baird recalls. As a kid, she loved playing cricket and running street races in Trinidad but had never seriously trained for a race. “I started training [for the 5K] with my sister, and I’d be crying, ‘This is so hard!’ and she would just say, ‘Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle’ and then I would start running faster.” Baird’s training paid off when, the night after she won the 5K race, her dad pulled up to their small house with a red BMX bike in tow. “I rode that bike from age 12 to 19, till the day I left Trinidad,” relates Baird.
In high school, Baird competed in javelin and long jump. When her senior year came, she began thinking “it would be kind of cool to get a scholarship for track.” She wrote to a lot of schools, and even told one of her friends, who was running for BYU at the time, that she was interested in speaking with the BYU coach about a scholarship. At the Pan American games in Canada, Coach Shane, the distance coach for BYU came looking for Marsha Mark from Trinidad and Tobago. When he found her, he gave her an offer that would change her life. “We would like to recruit you for the heptathlon,” he said. Baird had never even heard of the heptathlon and had only ever competed in two of the seven events but was thrilled to be recruited.
However, Baird’s SAT scores weren’t high enough to be admitted to BYU and she was left with a decision to make. “Coach Poole said I had three options. I could stay in Trinidad and go to a vocational college, I could sit out a year, or I could go to Ricks College.” She decided to go to Ricks college with no idea what or where it was. “Leaving Trinidad, it was 90 degrees in December. I show up in Rexburg and it’s negative ten. I was freezing. Freezing, freezing, freezing. It was the coldest semester of my life,” Baird recalls. While at Ricks College, Baird became involved with her roommates, her ward, and her religion classes. She began serving in a calling even though she was not yet a member of the Church. “I did all of that and I just didn’t believe in Joseph Smith. I felt the Spirit, but still, I just struggled with the Book of Mormon and I struggled with prophets on earth.” It wasn’t until she graduated from BYU-Provo years later that she prayed, sincerely seeking to know, and received confirmation that the Church was true. “It was January, New Year’s Eve actually, that I prayed and got that confirmation. Four days later I met the man who would become my husband. Then I got baptized in March.”
When she transferred from Ricks to BYU-Provo, she began training with Coach Poole, who not only encouraged her to compete in the 2000 Olympics, but also urged her to go on and earn her master’s degree in social work. When he suggested she represent Trinidad in the Olympics, Baird said, “Coach, are you crazy? Just like how you were crazy to recruit me for the heptathlon? My dream is to go and watch the Olympics, not compete in them!” However, she agreed to try.
Earning a master’s degree and training for the Olympics was not easy. “I felt like if I tried to train for the Olympics and tried to do grad school, I would definitely fail a class or two,” recalls Baird. Her coach told her to just stay strong, lift weights, and begin seriously training after graduation. When she qualified at the Canadian Olympic trials it all hit her: “Going from not even passing the SAT to graduating from BYU, going to Ricks College (which is like another planet), finishing grad school when my parents hadn’t even graduated from high school, and then now I’m in the Olympics? [From] . . . someone who feels like they’re on the bottom of the pole, to now all the sudden I’m an Olympic athlete . . . I was just so happy.” When she arrived at the Games in Sydney, Australia, Baird walked through the tunnel for opening ceremonies and remembers “flashing lights everywhere, camera lights going on and off, and the crowd roaring.” “I had to pinch myself . . . I felt like a movie star,” she remembers. She set a personal record and felt proud to be the first heptathlete in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to go to the Olympics.
After that, she decided to “retire” from track and field. It didn’t last long though, because as the 2004 Olympics approached, she received inspiration from the Lord. She says, “I was at work typing and my secretary was sitting there, and I had a prompting clear as a bell that said, ‘You’re going to Athens.’” In Baird’s mind she had retired. She hadn’t trained for two and a half years and the standard for qualification in the heptathlon had been raised 300 points. But then she qualified for and competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and she knew that God had given her that prompting for a reason.
After 2004, Baird didn’t stop challenging herself. As a social worker, she works in the Provo School District with at-risk youth. Early on, she took the test to receive her clinical license in social work and failed it three times. She says, “After that I started rationalizing, [saying] ‘I don’t need it for my job, it won’t raise my pay, I don’t really need to take that test.’” Years later she got a prompting again that said, “You’ve made it to the Olympics, you went to grad school, you do really well in your calling, you’re a good mom, you’re a good wife, you haven’t really quit on anything and you work hard . . . Now it’s time for you to take that test again.” So she began studying, listening to the Spirit, and working toward her new goal. Eight months later she passed her test. Now she is working on the process to receive her clinical license.
From dreaming of a red bike and someday riding a horse in a small Caribbean town, to running in the Olympics, becoming a licensed social worker, and raising her three sons, Marsha Baird has never let anything stop her on her way to success. She says, “There’s a poster in one teacher’s classroom at school that says, ‘You aren’t finished when you lose, you are finished when you quit.’” But Baird is far from finished; she plans to compete again in the Track and Field Master’s meet when she’s 49 and break the world record for the heptathlon in her age group. She says with gratitude, “I have so many people in my life that have inspired me, lifted me, and helped me. Things that I never dreamed about ever accomplishing, it was positive people in my life that steered me that way.”