Irondale senior Mary Heinks began her athletic career by participating in track and field. She later added cross-country, which was a similar pursuit, and Nordic skiing, which was not.

A self-described “Bambi on ice” at the start, Heinks persevered. She ranked as the Knights’ fastest skier at the state meet, helping her team finish 14th. Determination helped her earn an Athena Award, presented to the most worthy female scholar-athlete at each school in the metro. The St. Paul Area Athena Awards will be presented on Wednesday.

Heinks spoke to Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about her talents in Nordic skiing and track and field, and how she got involved in other extracurricular activities.


Q: When did your three sports come into your life?

A: I first ran track in fourth grade and have been ever since. I didn’t pick up cross-country until eighth grade when I changed middle schools and one of the gym teachers, Chris Torvi, who coached the cross-country team, kind of saw some potential and asked me to try it. And he also coached Nordic skiing so I got involved in that.


Q: What events do you participate in for the track and field team?

A: I run the 400- and 800-meter events plus the 4x400 and 4x800 relays.


Q: Are you anticipating any sort of breakthrough this spring?

A: Definitely, because three of the girls on the 4x800 relay went to state with the team in Nordic skiing. So I think the level of endurance we’re all coming in with is higher than in years past. Last year we were fifth in our section and it will be interesting to see what we can do this year.


Q: What is your role on the 4x800?

A: I’m usually the third leg. I try to keep our spot or catch other runners and bump us up a spot. That makes for a really exciting finish because our final girl, Michelle Meyer, has quite the engine.


Q: Is there some value, mentally, having experienced the success you did?

A: I think so. It keeps the momentum rolling. It told me that I’m capable of performing at that level. Because it really was a breakthrough. I did a lot more summer Nordic ski training than I had done in previous years.


Q: Are you most proud of your rise in Nordic, considering you went from novice to state participant in five seasons?

A: I definitely am. Usually kids who are really good at Nordic have been doing it their whole lives. I came in and couldn’t ski my first time on roller skis. I don’t think I made it out of the parking lot. So it’s been really satisfying to go from Bambi on ice to the state meet.


Q: Switching to your other activities, what is the Diva Dozen?

A: It’s a singing group. Only 12 make it in out of the 70 to 80 kids in concert choir. It’s a good group to be a part of; we make some really good music. We prepare two or three songs for every concert and songs for solo or ensemble competitions.


Q: How did the native wetland and prairie restoration volunteer opportunities get on your radar?

A: That was actually through my mom, Jane. She is a certified master naturalist with the state of Minnesota. She’s had me involved in that since I was a kid. It’s pretty local, all in the Rice Creek Watershed District, which includes Long Lake in New Brighton. That’s also where we do a lot of our interval training for cross-country.


Q: What did you think of earning the Athena Award?

A: It was a really good moment because there were a lot of other really strong candidates from Irondale. I was really happy and I know my coaches were, too.