While she’s not interviewing athletes and creating consumer experiences for Coca-Cola POWERADE and vitaminwater, Maria Heskin is busy parenting a pair of running prodigies. Lauryn and Ryan Heskin, 11 and 14 respectively, are both nationally ranked runners with Lauryn a champion in indoor track, outdoor track and cross country.
Last week, Lauryn and Ryan competed at the Junior Olympic Games, a national championship meet in Virginia. Here’s what Maria had to say about her life outside of Coke with her kids.
What is your role at Coca-Cola?
I'm the Director of Operations for Field and Experiential Marketing, based in New York. I started in July 2002 with glacéau. My job was to lead the vitaminwater, smartwater, POWERADE, FUZE and NOS national sampling programs to raise awareness of the glacéau brands and increase brand love. I did that for a number of years and, in 2013, our field marketing organization became part of the sports marketing group. Recently, one of my big projects has been the "Share a Coke” national tour, which has been a lot of fun. I provide experiential expertise to the Coke brand team and agency partners. One of my other projects has been working with Dina Gerson, Director of Olympic Games Partnerships for Coke. She's based in Atlanta. We worked together earlier this year to identify potential athletes for our Coca-Cola 6-Pack for Rio 2016 Olympics. We researched and interviewed candidates and experts in the field and finally landed on our 6-pack of athletes.
So I hear that your kids are quite the athletes. When did they start running?
Displaying their medals at the 2013 AAU Junior Olympics.
Displaying their medals at the 2013 AAU Junior Olympics.
Wow, they started young! What's their training schedule like?
Lauryn, for example, started competing on the national level in 2011 when she was seven, which sounds crazy now that I’m saying it out loud. She and her brother train and compete year round for indoor track, outdoor track and cross country, so there is never a break. The training regimen is tailored to peak at nationals, so it’s a matter of changing it up and tapering right before big meets. It’s pretty intense. They started out in a local Catholic Youth Organization league and later joined a running club. The first practice they went to was a two-mile warm-up, followed by an intense workout and a two-mile cool down. I had never experienced that before. To me, their two-mile warm-up was good enough to be their workout. Weekly, they can rack up to 30 miles. They log higher mileage as they approach national meets.
I understand that Lauryn competed at the national level this week?
She did! She came in first in the 3,000-meter run and set a new personal record by 16 seconds at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Virginia. The double-digit drop in her personal best is due to the training this year. After winning the gold on Monday for the 3000-meter, she followed with a silver in the 1500-meter. She’s been having a really strong year. She turns 12 on August 26th and already has 12 national titles: one in outdoor track, three in cross country and eight in indoor track. She is a 20-time All-American and has received the USA Track and Field Long Island Youth Female Athlete of the Year award three years in a row. She currently holds the national record for four indoor races and this year competed in the Millrose Games at the New York Armory where she won the 800-meter event. She also raced at the Adidas Grand Prix on Randall’s Island this past June and won the one-mile race. That was a really exciting competition for her because she met Leo Manzano, who is one of our 6-pack of athletes. Lauryn's so driven and never gives up. One story I love telling is two years ago, during the regional qualifying race for the 1500-meter indoor track nationals, one of the other runners stepped on her sneaker and it fell off with her sock coming off afterwards. Just picture her running around the track, one foot barefoot, the other in a sneaker. She kept going and still qualified, matching her best time. Subsequently, at indoor nationals she won the gold and the national title in the 1500-meter. That’s just the type of girl she is... she works through challenges and gives it her all. Lauryn has 12 national titles and is a 20-time All-American.
Lauryn has 12 national titles and is a 20-time All-American.
How do her times compare to high schoolers around the area?
She beats them. Her time in the 1500-meter (just under a mile) was 4:52.
Wow, that’s amazing. My mile is just around the 10-minute mark, so more power to her.
Oh forget it! I’m kind of fast, but even if my life depended on it, I couldn't run as fast as my kids. Lauryn's best 5K time is 18:42. It runs in the family. My son, Ryan, who is 14, is also fast! He specializes in the 1500-meter and 3000-meter. He has a national title in indoor track and is an eight-time All-American.
Oh cool! Tell me more about Ryan.
Ryan started running at the same time as Lauryn, and she has followed in her big brother's footsteps. He’s a strong national runner as well. Ryan has a national title in the indoor 3,000 meter. As a ninth grader, he was placed on the varsity team at his high school, Loomis Chaffee, a boarding school in Connecticut. He placed first for his high school in almost every meet as a freshman. He’s been really successful. He just competed in the 1500-meter, 2000-meter and 3000-meter Steeple Chase at nationals, as well, this week in Virginia. He placed 10th overall in the Steeple Chase. Ryan and Lauryn Heskin are decorated runners in multiple events.
Ryan and Lauryn Heskin are decorated runners in multiple events.
How did they get into running? Do you run yourself?
I was born with a love of running. I’ve always appreciated it but the furthest I got was competing in high school track just for fun. I didn’t know there was a world of running outside of high school track. Ryan and Lauryn’s dad was always a big runner throughout high school, and he now coaches their team along with Coach Vincent Duncan, who has coached athletes for over 40 years, including Olympian track athletes. Their dad had them running early in life, and both coaches have helped them continue to excel in the sport. I’ve competed in half-marathons and different races every now and then, but I’m not at my kids' level.
What goals have your kids set for themselves in their running careers?
Lauryn is really determined. In first grade, one of the assignments was for her to fill out a poster about herself. One of the questions was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She already knew and wrote that she wanted to be an Olympian. This year, in sixth grade, in her yearbook they had to say “Where I will be in 20 years,” and while her classmates wrote “I want to be a doctor, etc.,” Lauryn wrote that she will be a Track Olympian. She’s just always had that goal in mind. On the day to day, it’s really just improving year after year and staying healthy and strong. Most importantly and luckily for us, she loves it. That’s really important to me – she still enjoys it, so it’s easy. So it’s really just building her up and getting experience. Unrelated to running, she wants to dedicate a room in the house for her pets. She currently has five.
Do you make it to every meet?
Their dad and I take turns bringing them to meets. I went to the USATF Indoor Track Championships with them back in March in Maryland, and he is with them at the Junior Olympic Games in Virginia right now. The great part about nationals is that I can live-stream via the Internet. Yesterday and Monday, the glacéau/Coke office - watched with me as Lauryn won and got a PR [personal record]. It was really special to see everyone at Coke cheering her on. I sent Lauryn a picture of everyone supporting her.
So how do you balance everything?
Whatever is most important that day, I’ll focus on that. My priorities are always kids, work and my boyfriend, and then I make sure to have time for myself for running, spinning, hot yoga and boot camp. It’s all about time management and relying on their dad, family and neighbors for help. Every day is a juggling act, giving 100 percent to what I’m focused on and doing the best that I can.