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Jordan Mara: Man of steel, brawn and little clothing

Jordan Mara is a mid-distance runner for the Arizona men’s track and field team and a member of the men’s cross country team. But that’s not all: He’s a marketing and entrepreneurship senior with a 3.74 GPA, a three-time track and field captain, a two-time member of the Pac-10 All-Academic first team, the 2010 Co-President of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and a top-five finalist for Homecoming King.

Jordan ran a 50.3 split for the 400-meter leg in the men’s distance medley relay on Friday at the Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I can’t even tie my shoes in that time.

I recently got the chance to bother Jordan to discuss his national championship, hiking boots and his motherland, Canada:

Sarah: So what’s next for you after graduation in May?

Jordan: It’s kind of all up in the air right now. I’m talking to Nike right now trying to finalize a position with them in some capacity, whether it’s interning with them again this summer or getting hired on full time. I’m trying to figure out the best options, but if the opportunity arises with Nike, it’s too much to turn down. If it doesn’t come up , a lot of things definitely hinge on how I run this track season as well because, being Canadian, I’ve already qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials. If nothing else, it would be a fun way to end my competitive career. I’m not going to say I’m on pace to make the Olympics by any means, but even to be in that atmosphere would be a great way to end things.

Sarah: Are you going to actively train for the Trials after school?

Jordan: If I lower my PRs in the 1500 and maybe the 800 as well, then I’d say it’s definitely something I’d like to consider. The way that I look at things right now is I’m 21 and I’m not going to be able to run close to a four-minute mile my whole life by any means, so it’s like, “Why not?” I have my whole life to work and get a job. If track goes great and something doesn’t happen with Nike, I have no problem just going back up to Vancouver and working part-time to pay the bills and train pretty seriously for the Olympic Trials.

Sarah: When did you first decide, “I hate myself, therefore I will run long distances for fun”?

Jordan: (Laughs) Well, it was forced upon me a little bit because when I was in grade one and my older brother was in grade three, I guess my mom didn’t want to look after me for a little while, so she sent me to cross country with my brother. I didn’t have any idea what was going on—I was wearing these big old hiking boots and jeans. I was with Tyrell, my older brother, and I just went along and ran. I didn’t race again for two years, but when I was in third grade I did cross country. I still remember so vividly to this day when we had a race, I came in 60th or 70th. There were a few hundred kids racing, but nothing special by any means. But I remember after the race lying in my bed that night and thinking how proud my parents would be if I were to win a race. So we had a race the next week—exact same course, exact same school, so I was like, “I’m just going to go for it, I guess.” So I went straight to the front of the race and I ended up winning it.

Sarah: That’s a very touching story, but can we go back to the hiking boots and jeans real quick? Is that like the Canadian uniform?

Jordan: (Laughs) I don’t know. At the time I thought they were super cool to wear, and I felt like I could do anything in them. They were perfect, though. It’s kind of cold in Canada sometimes so I could wear them in the winter, but I could also wear them when it was muddy out and I didn’t want to get all dirty, so they were my utility boots. They were my boot of choice for that day.

Sarah: That’s efficient. I read you used to play basketball. Did you also play hoops in your hiking boots?

Jordan: I never used the hiking boots for basketball. I played till the end of high school, but all along I’ve been more interested in the individual sports. In individual sports, I know that if I want to win something, then it’s all up to me. But at the same time, if I lose, then it’s all on me as well. So I really enjoyed that individual aspect of the sport.

Sarah: And all the glory, is what you’re saying. You loved the glory.

Jordan: (Laughs) The glory and the failure. You take them both as they come.

Sarah: Fair enough. Have you gotten comfortable running in that underwear you call a uniform? I was born wearing more clothing than what you race in.

Jordan: That uniform is beautiful, I will have you know. I’m not sure if you remember the Homecoming event where we had to dress up as our favorite king, and I decided to dress up as King Leonidas and I just wore a little Speedo and a cape down University where all the students were, so I think that’s a pretty clear indication that I’m pretty comfortable with wearing very minimal amounts of clothing.

Sarah: Yeah, don’t think I forgot that. Moving on. Cross country and track obviously aren’t typical spectator sports, but does it bother you at all that you guys train so hard for your races, yet very few people come out to watch?

Jordan: It’s not ideal, but I think anybody that is in track and field doesn’t do it for the spectators or the atmosphere or the crowd. It’s a much more intimate, soul-searching sport where you find out what you really have to offer. It’s always a pleasure racing in front of a ton of people. When we had Pac-10s at Oregon two years ago, there were 6,000 or 7,000 people at my race. It was a ton of fun doing that because it gets so loud when you’re competing and as the race goes on it gets louder and louder. I mean, hopefully things will change at all levels of track and field as far as more spectators, but at the same time I don’t think that anybody in the sport is doing it for the glamour of it.

Sarah: That’s fair. I mean, I totally respect masochists like yourself who take on distance running, but you all have to step it up with the entertainment value for cross country. Maybe add a dance-off at every mile mark or something like that.

Jordan: (Laughs) I’ve thought about something along those lines, but I think the best way to do it would be to involve more contact in the sport somehow. If you could do something where you’re racing, but it’s full contact in some regards as well, it would force everyone to run a lot faster so you don’t get tackled by some Joe Shmoe, but at the same time, if you do get tackled then that adds a whole new element. You could have guys on your team who do the dirty work and then the stars who do the running.

Sarah: If a couple guys get chucked across the course, I’m on board with that. So we’ve already established that you’re from Canada. Why did you move from the coldest place on earth to the hottest place on earth?

Jordan: (Laughs) Well, it definitely has nothing to do with leaving my homeland because Canada is the greatest country in the world.

Sarah: That’s debatable.

Jordan: That is not debatable. It is a fact as stated by Wikipedia. Everything on Wikipedia is true, so that’s a fact. But when I was going through the recruiting process and I was talking to different schools, I really liked what I heard about Arizona, and I had a bit of a pipeline, I guess, with my track club. There had been three of four athletes from my track club that had gone down to the U of A, so I knew that we had people who had come down here and had been successful with the program. And there are so many professional athletes that come to Tucson to train that it was pretty evident it was a great training environment. It’s all you could ask for as an athlete. I wouldn’t want to train anywhere else in the world.

Sarah: Speaking of training, do you have any individual goals and expectations for your last season?

Jordan: I’d really like to get under 1:50 in the 800. It’d be really great to run like 4:05 or 4:06 for the mile indoors, and for outdoors I’d really like to run the 1500 in the 3:45 range. My PR is 3:51 from last year, but everything’s kind of pointing toward a bit of a breakout season in that event. I’m pretty excited for what could happen in those two events.

Sarah: What is the most memorable experience of your running career thus far?

Jordan: I’d say when I won a national championship when I was in high school. I was in grade eleven. I was still playing basketball, but I wasn’t getting along with the team or the coach, so I quit mid-season. I guess you could say it was because of pressure. Everybody wanted me to live up to what my brother had done in high school because he was one of the country’s best players at the time and one of the best players in the province of all time. I was good, but I wasn’t that good, so I was tired of everybody saying, “You’re Tyrell’s brother, right?” So I just wanted to make a name for myself. So I went on and won my provincial championship to start the summer. Then I won the U-17 club championship and then the U-19 club championship and was running really well, so my final meet was the national championship. I went out kind of slow, but I stuck to my game plan and ended up winning it by 1.5 seconds, I believe. It was a pretty memorable moment for me because at that time I felt like I became Jordan Mara. I was no longer Tyrell’s brother or just some guy. I made a name for myself at that time. Not to make it sound like I had anything against my brother or anything like that. I mean, you know how it is: You live in the shadow for a while before you become your own person.

Sarah: I wouldn’t know. I’m usually the one casting the shadow, so I can’t relate to that.

Jordan: I don’t doubt it. I don’t doubt it one bit.
Today Jordan races against the nation’s top talent in the mile run. Click here to see Friday’s complete results and today’s event schedule and results.
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