A three-time Baltimore cross country champion, Mervo senior Kitria Stewart finished 18th in the state Class 3A finals Nov. 10 at Hereford. A competitive runner since she was 7, Stewart also helped the Mustangs' 1,600-meter relay team win the Class 3A track and field title last spring. This summer, she ran for the Freddie Hendricks Track Club at the AAU Junior Olympics and helped the 1,600-meter relay team to a fifth-place finish. A multiyear All-City selection in cross country and track and field, Stewart, 17, plans to run in college and is considering North Carolina, Hampton, Florida State and Jackson State. She has an 83 academic average and plans to major in sports management.
Why did you start running?
Actually, I got recruited. I was in elementary school and, you know, everyone's up to doing everything. They were just doing a new track team for Gilmor Elementary School, so I just went out for the team. My mother was like, "It's something fun to do," and from that point on, I liked it. I actually got my cousins into it.
What do you love about it?
It's so competitive. I just like the atmosphere of it. A lot of people do it, and I'm good at it, only because of running for years. I have this thing like I don't give up, so that's a good thing about it. I keep doing it and doing it and everyone's like, "She's a good runner. She has good potential." Then I have my mom and my family backing me.
When did you get serious about running?
I really got serious my freshman year of high school. The coach was telling me, "This could be your big break for college. You could get a full scholarship." I was like, "Really? Running? It can get me that far?" So I really had to get focused on every meet. Back when I was younger, everything was for fun. Now it's serious. You've got to get ready to run.
Is it still fun?
Yes, I enjoy it, especially with my teammates. Everyone makes it fun.
Was there any pressure on you going into the city championship after winning twice already?
Yes. It was a lot of pressure. I actually won all the meets leading up to the city championship. Every meet, it got faster and there was more pressure from the other athletes who were on my back. After I won the city championship, I felt very blessed and grateful that I had won.
Were you satisfied with your performance at the state meet?
Yes, because in my sophomore year, I finished 37th. It was like, "Wow, I finished in the top 20," so that was cool.
Do you like the mental challenge of running cross country?
Some people don't get that point of running. Some think it's all physical - "Oh, my legs are hurting and I can't run" - but it's really a mental challenge. It's always going to hurt. You have to get past it and you have to overcome the boredom.
In track, you run everything from the 400 to the 3,200 meters. Are you a distance runner or a middle distance runner?
How does cross country help you with the middle distances?
It helps me with my endurance, as far as getting stronger, competing so I can last longer in the races. It prepares me for indoor a lot.
Which is your favorite: track or cross country?
Track. I have a variety to choose from as far as my events. Cross country is one three-mile course, and it's difficult running the longer miles. In track, there might be a bit of speed here or I can slow it down there, but in cross country, it's a steady pace.
Why are you interested in sports management as a career?
I really want to be in the corporate world, and I still want to deal with sports. I'm an athlete, and I want to have sports still in my life. I've been reading up on it as far as sports management, more into some type of director of a business dealing with helping athletes perform and making sure they get everything they need.
How did you become interested in that?
My trade here at Mervo is computer programming, so I was already in a business atmosphere, but I found out that computer programming wasn't my thing, only because I got to the point where it's like, if the program is not working, I get very frustrated. As far as my job, I didn't want it to be boring where I would wake up every morning and think this is not what I want to do. So I thought I'll just keep it in sports. I was looking at the colleges I wanted to attend, North Carolina and Hampton, and they had a nice sports management program, so I thought maybe that's for me.
Do you have a role model?
I really look up to my parents. They're always on my back, and it's like I really like that. I like that support from them. I can follow them, because they're doing the right things as far as taking care of me and my sisters, working, showing me how to be a mature young lady. I really look up to them and to my coaches. They give me that extra talk if I can't get it from my parents. I can call them any time.
What is your most prized possession?
I have this bank that's shaped like a star. It's a penny bank. It was my father's mother's. She passed away not long ago, and that Christmas before she passed, she gave me the bank, and I'm filling it up. It always reminds me of her.
What are you doing for Thanksgiving?
We're having Thanksgiving at my house this year, so all my family and friends are getting together. As far as games and the games that are on, we like to play Family Feud when we get finished eating (laughs). We compete as teams.
What does Thanksgiving mean to you?
Being grateful for what you have, giving thanks for everything as far as your family, your friends, people who are there for you. It means a lot. As far as just being alive on this holiday this year, it's important to feel very blessed with your family or whoever you have who's sitting around the table with you eating.