Maya Hopwood is many things.
Remarkable, some say. Confident. Lively. Talented. Positive. Humble. The long list might dwarf the 4-foot-11 Bend High junior as many of her track and field teammates and opponents do.
And one more thing: Maya Hopwood is always smiling.
No matter the situation — after winning a 100-meter dash or after uphill sprint workouts during practice — Hopwood almost certainly will be bright-eyed and beaming. It has reached the point, she says, that she has to force herself to NOT smile. Especially during meets.
“I have to look mean,” she laughs. “I have to put on my Beast Mode face.”
Whether or not Hopwood could pull off a look that is intimidating, her track record already is.
After all …
Maya Hopwood is a champion.
She made an immediate impact at the Class 5A state meet as a freshman for the Lava Bears, winning the 100 and running the anchor leg of the first-place 4x100 relay that helped Bend place second in the team standings. Last season, Hopwood successfully defended her 100 state title. She placed fifth in the 200 and ran a leg of the third-place 4x400 relay team that, again, led the Bears to a runner-up team finish.
“I think the thing that just blows us away, over and over again, is she is just so electric out of the blocks,” says Bend coach Kyle Will. “She’s in lanes next to girls that are a good 6 to 8 inches taller than her with legs from here to the moon. But she is so quick out of the blocks, she’ll have the race won in 40 meters.”
Hopwood had trained diligently to become one of the state’s top sprinters, especially this past year with offseason workouts and meets while competing with Central Oregon Track Club. As a result, she enters this week with the fastest 100-meter time (12.33 seconds) in Class 5A, a mark that ranked fourth statewide, regardless of classification.
Certainly her tireless work ethic has contributed to Hopwood becoming a respected sprinter. Yet other factors have contributed to her success, factors that have nothing to do with track.
After all …
Maya Hopwood is an accomplished dancer.
Since watching as an awestruck 5-year-old as Irish dancers stomped in rhythm at a Celtic festival, Hopwood has shown her skill in the art of the fast-tempo dance — even though the toll-taking activity, she says, has resulted in tendonitis in one of her feet. Still, despite a respite from Irish dancing a few years ago (she gave Bollywood dancing a shot; though she did not enjoy it nearly as much), Hopwood has benefited from the byproduct of competing in “feiseanna,” Gaelic for festivals and competitions, in which she has placed in the top four several times in the Portland and Seattle areas.
“I think Irish dance has actually helped me with my speed,” Hopwood says. “I know it’s good for a lot of sports: For football, it teaches you fast footwork and technique. Most of my hard work comes from dancing and my body type is from all the hard work. It’s genetic, but it’s also, I think, from dance.”
Hopwood has yet to develop a signature celebration during track meets (something akin to Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt’s “To Di World” celebration, in which Bolt bends one elbow and straightens the other at an angle toward the sky). She wants a little flair for the dramatic.
After all …
Maya Hopwood has a newfound love for drama.
She recalls a friend suggesting she take a drama class at school. She was hesitant at first, but she remembered how much the class had helped her brother Cade become more sociable and outgoing. Hopwood enrolled in drama, and in turn, she somehow has become even more confident in track.
“I feel like I’m out of my shell more and I can do more things,” Hopwood says. “It helps with my mindset in track, actually. I get really nervous before I run a 200. I don’t know. It feels like I can’t do it, almost, and drama has really helped with that.”
Track, she adds, is more of a mental game than some might think. For example, now, before each race, Hopwood can visualize each step of her event, like an actor running through a script. She has adapted and excelled, which has become commonplace for her.
After all …
Maya Hopwood was born in the West African country of Liberia.
Hopwood was placed for adoption soon after she was born. For more than a year, she lived in an orphanage in the capital city of Monrovia but was not far from her birth mother, who worked at the orphanage, Hopwood recalls.
Rick Hopwood, Maya’s adopted father, says his wife, Melissa, had long wanted to adopt a child. (The couple already had three children: Cade, who is six weeks older than Maya, and daughters Neila, 10, and Olivia, 8.) Maya remembers having heard that the conditions in Liberia “were not very good” at the time. Rick confirms her recollection, saying that civil unrest delayed Maya’s arrival in the United States. She was eventually escorted to the nearby country of Ghana, where Rick met her to bring the then 2-year-old to Oregon.
“It’s been all positive,” Rick says of Maya’s adjustment to a new home and a new family. “She didn’t have any attachment issues. I think she was calling us daddy and mommy the first night. It was like the smoothest adoption I’ve ever heard.”
Maya, who says she still keeps in touch with her biological parents via Facebook and FaceTime, has maintained strong grades throughout school has even picked up on American Sign Language (yet another talent she has developed). But it seems many still fixate on her diminutive stature.
Maya Hopwood is playfully known as “Short Stack.”
Hopwood recounts a story from her freshman season at the 5A state meet. Among the crowd at Eugene’s Hayward Field was a friend whose boyfriend looked down at the track as the finalists for the 100 meters prepared to race. Seeing the Goliath runners around Hopwood, who as the top seed was in a center lane, the boyfriend commented: “I don’t think she deserves that lane. She looks way smaller than the other girls.” Hopwood’s friend replied: “Oh, you just wait and see.”
The Bend freshman won the event, proving herself to yet another skeptic.
“With my body type, I guess I shouldn’t be that fast, in a way,” Hopwood says. “I don’t know why I think that. But it makes me feel better about myself, because I’m tiny and I’m able to run as fast as the taller girls, and I’m beating the taller girls.”
“To see her do what she does given her physical stature is pretty remarkable,” Will says. “But that’s where her heart and her mind help her. She has this huge heart and this incredible mind to keep her working hard and moving forward.”
Hopwood rarely thinks about her size. “To me,” she says, “it’s just normal.” She continues to keep her chin up and think positively.
After all …
Maya Hopwood is a positive ball of energy.
That is the most accurate description of the sprinter, Will says. She is “always pleasant,” according to the coach, and “loves to work hard and compete.”
“Maya’s just really talented,” says Cade Hopwood, Maya’s brother and also a Bend High sprinter — whom she considers her best friend. “She’ll do better than everyone else, but she’ll be a really good sport about it. She has this really great attitude, and it’s just fun to do anything with her.”
Rick Hopwood says it is difficult to know how much credit he and his wife should accept for Maya’s confidence, attitude and personality. “That’s just part of how she’s wired,” he says. Rick adds that Maya continues to amaze her family with her ability to excel at nearly everything she takes on — from Irish dancing to sprinting. Even now, as Will says, that Maya has a bull’s-eye on her back after winning two individual track state titles.
“There’s a lot of talented girls in the state,” Will says. “All of a sudden she becomes the target that everybody’s aiming for.
“And she’s more than held her own.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org .