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More than an athlete: Golden Valley's Tyra Sparks

Track runner overcame bad choices to become a leader

Posted: June 11, 2014 10:15 p.m.
Updated: June 11, 2014 10:15 p.m.
Golden Valley senior Tyra Sparks was much more than just a track and field athlete at her school, she was a leader. Golden Valley senior Tyra Sparks was much more than just a track and field athlete at her school, she was a leader.
Golden Valley senior Tyra Sparks was much more than just a track and field athlete at her school, she was a leader.

Editor’s note: Today marks the second in a series in which we recognize athletes at the local high schools who represent their respective schools not so much by what they do on the field, but off of it. We call them “More than an athlete.”

For Tyra Sparks, the track was a way out.

It was an escape from a life she didn’t want to lead and a crowd she didn’t want to be associated with.

Golden Valley High School’s track and field team gave Sparks, 18, a brand-new passion at a pivotal point in her life.

“Track became really important to me the older I got,” says Sparks, who graduated from Golden Valley last week. “It made me feel more comfortable. It was the very first sport I’d ever done, and I wanted do stay in it.

The kids on the team were like a family and I really enjoyed it.”

When Sparks decided to join the track team her freshman year at Golden Valley, it was a turning point for her.

She grew up in the Antelope Valley as the youngest of six kids.

When she reached her early teen years, Sparks began to fall in with a crowd that steered her, she said, toward drugs and negative influences.

Her grades started to slip. She wasn’t happy with the path she was headed down.

When Sparks was in eighth grade, her family moved to the Santa Clarita Valley. It was about that time that she realized if she wanted to start running track, she was going to have to get clean.

“I just decided that it wasn’t for me and especially, freshman year starting out in track, I started thinking that I needed to stop doing that stuff,” she says.

The team allowed her to find a new group of friends and walk away from some of the old ones.

As an underclassman, Sparks was more of a sprinter, running the 400-meter event and some of the hurdles.

In the fall of her senior year, she caught the distance bug and joined the cross country team partly to help learn how to run the lengthier events come track season.

This past season, she ran the 800 and 1,600 for the Foothill League championship track team. Eventually, she became fast enough in the 800 to qualify for the league finals meet.

Sparks says she will continue to run track next year at College of the Canyons.

“She’s just tapped into her talents now,” says Golden Valley track and field co-head coach Sara Soltani. “I think she can only go up from here.”

But even more remarkable than her athletic accomplishments was everything she took on in her life along the way.

At times, Sparks says she felt overwhelmed by all she had going on.

But running was always what she could go back to lift her spirits. Her father, Edward, saw that.

“I wanted her busy and to keep her out of trouble,” Edward says. “Not that she was going to get in trouble, but (track) was something she liked.”

Since age 16, Sparks has worked weekend shifts at Wendy’s restaurant during school to help out her family.

She works full-time in the summers.

All throughout high school, Sparks was the first one to jump at a chance to join community reach-out movements on campus.

Between her club commitments and work, she often didn’t have time to attend the normal cross country or track practice.

She arranged weekend workouts at 6 a.m. with Soltani. It was the only time of day she was able to train before work.

Though it was out of the ordinary for Soltani to work one-on-one with an athlete on the weekends, she says she’ll never turn down someone who wants to work.

“You would never know how much she has on her plate by her personality because she is so happy and she’s such a pleasure to be around,” Soltani says.

Her junior year, the perfect opportunity came when the school district introduced the Drug Free Youth In Town (DFYIT) club.

The club is a nonprofit organization that recognizes middle school and high school kids who live drug-free, healthy lifestyles and it encourages them to participate in community-service activities.

For someone like Sparks who had already overcome drug use and enjoyed being active in the community, she was the perfect candidate to take on a leadership role at Golden Valley.

Senior year, Sparks was voted the school’s DFYIT president.

“I saw that with her, especially with the participation, (she has) kind of one of those charismatic personalities,” says Golden Valley teacher Carmelo Flores, who is the club adviser. “A lot of people like to follow her and be around her and spend time with her.”

As president, Sparks was in charge of organizing and leading some of the events, like cancer benefit “Relay for Life” and a local Thanksgiving dinner for people in need.

She also spent a week helping a group of club members paint a gigantic mural near the front entrance of Golden Valley. The design was meant to demonstrate the school’s celebration of diversity.

But above all, what Sparks liked about the club was the fact that it gave her a platform to share her stories and help relate to younger kids who were looking for a way out of the cycle of drugs and alcohol.

“I just really wanted everyone to see that you can just walk away,” Sparks says.

She didn’t just walk away, she ran.


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