Bellingham High senior Maya Norton is a people person.
"I love people," she said in a phone interview. "Just talking to people makes me happy. I'm an extrovert. It's funny, but if I'm a little sad or tired or anything, what really energizes me is talking to people and seeing friends. It recharges my body."
Not surprisingly, Norton is relishing her role as team captain for the Red Raiders' cross country team this season.
It's a role she seems born for.
"Maya inspires her teammates to do their best, because she has the motivational characteristics to lead by example," Bellingham coach Bill McClement said in a phone interview. "She's just delightful and fun for everyone to be around."
Now in her fourth year running cross country, Norton has made it her personal goal to mentor Bellingham's younger runners and show them the Red Raider way.
"I want to make sure everybody knows what they're doing," Norton said. "I like to help them learn what level they're supposed to run at in a workout, how to run a certain course, what the team needs out of them in a race. Newcomers can get lost, because they don't know what they're supposed to do yet, but I try to make them feel comfortable. I enjoy talking to them."
Cross country is hardly the only area in which Norton finds herself helping people.
During her time in high school she's taken service trips to Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Grenada.
Last year, she took another to Mexico during the winter quarter so that she could work with a volunteer organization that helped aspiring female entrepreneurs get interest-free micro loans to help get their small businesses started.
Closer to home, Norton is a regular volunteer at the Bellingham Food Bank and a number of other charities.
"My parents got me started volunteering when I was young," Norton said. "We'd volunteer at the Food Bank and some other places. They started it out. I liked talking to people and helping strangers out. Anybody who has volunteered knows how it makes you feel good, and I just kept doing it."
This year, Norton is involved with the startup Red Cross High School program at Bellingham, serving as co-president. Part of the program involves going to elementary schools and using puppet shows to teach basic emergency responses to young students.
"Since I've known her, Maya has dedicated hours weekly to tutoring," McClement said. "Throughout the 2011-12 school year, she was tutoring three hours a week at Sunnyland Elementary, helping kids with math, reading and writing."
With such a busy schedule focusing on others, it's amazing Norton finds time for her own interests.
But the fact is she's an outstanding student, McClement said, as she's taken a course-load heavy in Advanced Placement classes and Running Start courses at Whatcom Community College.
"You have to have good time management," Norton said of making it all work. "A lot of times after school, I have to go to cross country and then cram in homework and cram in some volunteer activity. A lot of times, that doesn't leave much opportunity for other things. You've just got to prioritize the other things so that you can fit other activities in. You don't want to waste any time. You've got to do what you love doing."
And one of the things that Norton loves doing is running.
Norton has been among Bellingham's varsity seven all four years, and she'll attempt to make it to the Class 2A State Championships for a fourth straight year this fall.
She's had top-60 finishes at state her first three years, including a 37th-place finish as a junior with a time of 20 minutes, 10.7 seconds on the 5,000-meter course in Pasco. That run came a little more than two weeks after she placed 15th at the Northwest Conference Championships with a personal-best time of 19:41.42 on the Civic Stadium course.
"She demonstrates a wonderful commitment to excellence in so many areas because she has such a strong focus and positive attitude," McClement said. "I would say mentally, she is one of the strongest athletes I've ever had the pleasure to work with. She's a very tough competitor. She never gives up. She's very, very coachable."
She also puts the best interests of her team first.
And this year, Norton has some very high hopes for a squad that returns five of the seven runners it used to place second at last year's state championship meet. The Red Raiders enter the year ranked No. 3 in Class 2A in the state coaches' poll.
"This year, especially, we have a very exciting team," Norton said. "We have a lot of new faces that have shown a lot of potential, and we have people returning from last year that want to prove a lot. It's cool. We're a tightly knit community, especially on the girls' side. I can tell it's something really special. The girls are really supportive. You can tell there's already a wonderful community forming."
With a people person such as Norton at the middle of it, that's to be expected.
"I think with Maya, running is only one attribute of many," McClement said. "She's one of our top runners and has been for the past three years. But that is only part of the story. There are so many elements to her life. She has distinguished herself through community service, athletics and academics, and she is just a terrific kid to be around."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
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