BLOOMINGTON — At first, track started as something Marshaun Cook did for fun. He didn't really plan on making it a serious sport.
He used to beg his mother, Shauna Mays, and father, Marcus Cook, to let him skip track meets in favor of playing baseball. That, after all, was his first love. Early on in his running career, Mays began to ask herself if Marshaun would ever really like track and devote all of his energy into the sport.
He didn't even have spikes on his shoes when he took up running in seventh grade. Cook ran in flats all the way to the IESA boys track and field meet as a seventh and eighth grader. When he got to MacArthur as a freshman in 2016, thing got serious.
Cook turned his attention to track, recognized the deep history of the Generals' track program, a history that includes a 1992 state championship where Marcus was a key cog on the state-champion 4x200-meter relay team.
Things were getting real.
“I didn't realize how big it was in high school," Cook conceded. "In middle school I knew it was big, but it was just for fun."
Suddenly, Marshaun wasn't trying to skip track meets for baseball tournaments or filling up weekends with two days of running and baseball on Sunday. He ditched baseball as a junior and focused his efforts on track. Now, a senior, Cook is generating Division I interest to run track in college.
“It was just trying something for fun and after that he completely blossomed," Mays said.
Mays saw Cook's interest picking up. She knew that if Cook started to like the sport and devote his attention to it that he could turn his speed into something. Sure enough, that's exactly what Cook did.
“When he really likes something, he’s going to put his mind to it," Mays said. "He’s going to do it. At that point, I knew that he liked it and he was pretty good. I knew he could possibly go far if he put his mind to it."
Cook has qualified for the IHSA Class 2A outdoor state championship in each of his three years, though he missed last season with a hamstring injury. He's also been at the Illinois Top Times meet at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Weselyan in each of his four years in high school.
On Saturday, Cook ran in the Class 2A 60-meter dash, but didn't advance out of the preliminary round. "Bad race, man," he said.
The finish wasn't what Cook was hoping for, of course. He wanted to be in the final round. But he was still running, and he was healthy.
At last season's state track meet in Charleston, he was relegated to the sidelines. A hamstring injury in the middle of the year kept hanging around all the way to state. The 4x100-meter relay team was state-ranked and poised to have success. It ate at him to watch from a different perspective.
Instead of running, he was grooming then-freshman Khalyn Young for the meet.
“It made you not take practices and weight lifting for granted," Cook said. "It made you want to be ready at warm-up all the time.
“I knew I hurt my team. That’s why I came back so strong this year. We were supposed to win state."
Instead of running, Cook got to watch the top heats from a different perspective. He learned how to be a better teammate and how to groom the next generation of MacArthur runners. Ask Cook what keeps him going, what gives him the motivation to keep running track.
Down the road, when people talk about the 2018 MacArthur track team, of course Ronald Reed will stand out for his work at the state meet last season. But Cook hopes all of those battles with Reed, pushing each other and grinding to get better, will pay off and people will talk about his career on the track — just like his dad's.
“It would be awesome," he said. "I’d be following in my dad’s footsteps as a state champion and also I’d be carrying the team. We’re a little low right now, but I can help carry my team to what we can be and hopefully a state champion is what we can be."