July 9, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – For Maya Pressley, life wasn’t always easy growing up in Fort Lauderdale. Her mother died when she was 11, leaving Michael Pressley to raise his daughter and three sons alone.
Maya, the youngest, had an uncommon will to excel. In the classroom, she was an honor student. In track, the sport she’d started for fun when she was 12, she was a two-time Junior national champion in the high jump. She signed with Auburn and finished her career last spring as a five-time All-American
At Auburn, Pressley did what she’d always done. She excelled. In June, she finished third in the U.S. Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, and is on the verge of qualifying for the World Championships in Moscow.
“It was awesome,” Pressley says. “I had a great time. It was almost surreal. I had a chance to compete against the top girls in the country. I went up there and gave my all and kept fighting.”
In August, Pressley will graduate with a major in communications and minor in business.
“A lot of people struggle with it,” she says. “Track is like fulltime. A lot of people can’t handle that. In high school, I took a lot of honors courses and AP courses. I was kind of trained early to handle academics and track. I never struggled academically.”
In track, Pressley had some struggles early in her career. But she finished in a rush. Jerry Clayton, who coaches field events for Auburn, says it wasn’t by accident.
“It’s been a fun journey with her,” Clayton says. “She’s very coachable, and things have worked out very well for her.”
As a senior, Pressley worked to perfect a change Clayton suggested in her approach, and it paid off in a big way.
“It started at the end of the conference season,” Clayton says. “She just kept working and kept getting better.”
As she prepared for the NCAA Championships, Pressley, a faithful church member, was inspired by a sermon. She went on to be an NCAA All-American and to post a personal record in finishing third in the U.S. Championships.
“It was about keep your vision in front of you, what you want to accomplish,” Pressley says. “I took out my USA uniform from juniors and I pinned it on my wall. It’s right there above the TV, so if I look at TV, I see it.”
To qualify for the World Championships, Pressley needs to increase her personal best by two inches by July 20. She has two meets in which to get it done. She says she doesn’t feel pressure.
“Since you know what you have to do, you do it,” Pressley says. “It’s easier to focus when, instead of competing against other people, you are just competing against the bar.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: