Meg Gaytko has figured out the ideal equilibrium between academics and sports, rising to the top of her class while also spending hours practicing and competing for Cooper.
The multisport athlete, who was recently named an Athena Award winner, has competed in Nordic skiing and on the dance team, along with four years of soccer and track and field throughout high school.
Next year Gaytko will head to the College of St. Benedict's, where she will continue her track and field career and major in chemistry. She said she hopes to eventually earn a graduate degree in pharmacy.
Gaytko answered questions recently for Star Tribune reporter Betsy Helfand about the Athena Award, her favorite sport and goals for the upcoming track and field season.
Q: What does the Athena Award honor mean to you?
A: It's a great honor. I mean, I've been in sports my entire life and to just be recognized as a standout in athletics at my school, it means a lot to me. After all the hours and hours of work and the blood, sweat and tears, I feel like it finally really paid off.
Q: Do you have a favorite sport that you've played?
A: I don't know. I mean, I'm probably torn between soccer and track just because they've both been a part of my life for so long, but I really love soccer because it's such a team sport and you really create a family with those girls.
Q: What sort of challenges or obstacles do you face playing multiple sports?
A: Time is definitely a challenge. You're in school for eight hours a day and then you go straight to sports. … But I've learned to manage that [time] really well and just work around my busy schedule. And then weather is always an obstacle, too. Minnesota doesn't really know how to do springtime sometimes, so that's been a challenge in the past. But this year is really nice, so I'm excited about that.
Q: You finished as a conference champion in the triple jump last year. What are some of your goals for this track season?
A: I'm not really sure what to expect because Cooper, we're in a new conference this year. So I'd love to be conference champion again, that's definitely a goal of mine. … But my main event is triple jump, so I'm hoping to set another personal record in that this year and, who knows, maybe advance to state if I'm able.
Q: As you wrap up high school and look back on your athletic career, is there anything that sticks out to you most?
A: I think of all the friendships and all of the relationships that I've created over the years. Some of these people I never would have known if it wasn't for sports. And I think it's really wonderful how sports can bring people together and create a family just out of such a variety of people.
Q: What are your plans post-high school and how do sports fit into them, if at all?
A: I'm going to college at St. Benedict's next year and I'm already committed to the track team there. And I'm debating if I'm going to try out for soccer or not because track starts in October so it would be kind of hard to try and balance two sports right away freshman year. But I would definitely continue with soccer in one way or another whether it's at the varsity level or intramural.
Q: Was picking a school where you could continue with that a big factor in your decision?
A: It kind of played a part, yeah. The track coaches have been in contact with me for months now so they really made me feel comfortable before I made my decision and everything. Academics, too, have definitely played a big part in choosing my school.