Imagine this: A longtime softball player loses interest in the sport after graduating high school. She enrolls in a junior college, decides to run track, and becomes a contender almost instantly. Without any prior training or experience, she clocks in three seconds shy of the school record in the 800m, places first in the event at the Northern California Community College Track and Field Championships, is named the first seed heading into the State tournament, finishes fourth at State and becomes an All-American—all while putting in 35 plus hours a week at her full time job.
It sounds like a treatment for a movie script, but it isn’t; it’s a true story with a young woman named Sarah Mayfield at its center.
At this time last year Mayfield was still a student at Pitman High, was less than a month away from graduation and only a few days removed from the end of her last softball season. When the time came, she tossed her cap in the air and left Pitman for Modesto Junior College. Then everything changed.
“I started thinking about running track halfway through softball season my senior year,” Mayfield said. “I was the fastest girl on the softball team and I figured, why not?”
Once on the track with her fellow Pirates, Mayfield’s athletic talent caught the attention of track coach Robert Taylor III. After watching her run and win the 400m in her very first track meet, Taylor decided to put her in the 800m and see what she could do. Whatever initial expectations he had were quickly blown away.
“She called us up and said she wanted to run track. Her mechanics were off, but I knew she had a lot of potential,” Taylor said. “I didn’t think I’d ever get someone like this from the local area. She’s one of the best runners I’ve ever coached at MJC. I’ve coached a lot of good runners, but nothing like this.”
Mayfield recorded a time of 2.40 on her first attempt at the 800m. After some training she clocked in at 2.19 and a mere week after that she again improved her time with a 2.13 finish—just shy of the 2.10 school record set by Tammy Anderson in 1983.
“We haven’t seen a 2.13 in this area in a while,” Taylor said. “How she got missed, didn’t get signed, is beyond me.”
“I knew I was fast, but honestly, I didn’t think I was that fast,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield’s progression continued with each practice and competition, culminating at NorCals where she placed first in the 800m while also contributing to the 4x400m relay team that finished third.
“It’s still surreal for me. Getting the NorCal championship in my freshman year, and my first year in track, is kind of crazy,” Mayfield said.
“Her times are beyond exceptional for someone who’s ran track forever. She would have shattered the school record at Pitman if she ran there,” Taylor said.
Her NorCal performance was enough to seed her first in California and eight in the nation. Though expectations were high for the State tournament, a 41 hour work week and long shift on the eve of the race resulted in a tired Mayfield taking fourth in the 800m and eighth in the 4x400m relay. Still, the finishes were impressive enough to attract college scouts and earn Mayfield the title of All-American.
“I was really tired. I would have liked the chance to run fresh; I was kind of mad,” Mayfield said. “Coach Taylor was constantly telling me that I’m going to be amazing and that college scouts would look at me. I was like yeah right, but after the race on Saturday I realized he was right.”
“The recruiters who have looked at her have said, ‘this girl is amazing,’” Taylor said. “All kinds of people want to recruit her now.”
So far, Texas Christian University, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, University of New Mexico, and Minnesota University have expressed interest in the MJC freshman. Eager to keep her options open, however, Mayfield is focusing on continuing her growth on the track, aiming to break the 800m school record at MJC, and preparing for a potential run at this year’s Junior Olympics.
“She has a lot of room to grow; she might break it this year,” Taylor said.
“I am very determined to break that (record). To go from 2:40 to 2:13 is insane. To drop three more seconds, I think I can do that,” Mayfield said. “I’d like to give the Junior Olympics a shot, too, so I hope my schedule doesn’t interfere with that. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would like to take it.”