Manalapan track and field standout Mary Grace Monahan has a lot to look forward to as she plans to attend the U.S. Naval Academy after her high school graduation in June.
Except for one thing — having her long brown hair lopped off.
“I have to cut it down to my chin,” said Monahan, the reigning Central Jersey Group IV indoor track champion in both the 400- and 800-meter runs. “It’s going to be hard to do it, but I’ll do it … the day before I leave.”
Monahan recently decided to continue a long line of family ties to the military, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, both of whom attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., before joining the Marine Corps. Her mother is a brigadier general in the Marines as well, and she also has a pair of uncles who have connections to the Marines.
However, when it came time to selecting the school through which she’d continue her education and athletic career, Monahan wasn’t sure Navy, or any military academy, was the way to go. In fact, it wasn’t until June before she even gave serious consideration to that option.
“I had never thought about the Naval Academy in my life, and then I got a questionnaire during my sophomore year,” she said. “I just didn’t ever see myself doing that. But I filled it out and went along with it, but I was never really too interested in it. I just kind of kept the option on the table.
“But then I went to the summer seminar there in June of last year, and I felt like I fit in really well. It just felt like I belonged there.”
During the remainder of the summer, Monahan started second-guessing herself, wondering if she should go to Annapolis. And with an official visit to the Academy coming up in September, angst set in.
“I was dreading it,” she said. “I didn’t want to go, but my dad encouraged me to and I ended up doing it. And after I got there, I just kept saying to myself, ‘I can’t believe I thought I didn’t want to go here. This is where I belong.’ I texted my mom and told her that this was where I was coming to school. There was no doubt about it. I loved it and it felt like home.”
But before she takes on the highly structured lifestyle of the Naval Academy, Monahan has two more track seasons with the Braves to complete. And while she hasn’t set any specific goals on winning specific races at certain meets, improvement and remaining healthy are among them for both the winter and spring.
“I just want to improve and stay healthy mostly,” said Monahan, who also finished fourth in the 400 and third in the 800 during the Group IV meet before taking sixth in the Meet of Champions 800 last winter. “Training so far has been a little tough, but I’ll get through it and be all right.”
Still, translating “all right” into Monahan language generally means excellence or nothing. She’s the type of young lady who expects to perform at a high level all the time, and, even then, sometimes that’s not good enough.
“From a positive standpoint, it’s great as a coach that I don’t have to say anything to get her motivated,” said Manalapan track and field coach Jim Tweed, who refers to his captain as M.G. “In 21 years of coaching, I’ve never come across anybody with as much intrinsic motivation as her. On the flip side of that, sometimes she’s a little too hard on herself and it’s difficult to bring her back to reality. But that’s her. She redefines what reality is every day and it’s incredible.”
Not only a gifted athlete who just wrapped up a four-year soccer career with 30 goals and 21 assists, Monahan is an incredible student with a GPA hovering around the 4.5 mark. And as such, Tweed typically points a finger at Monahan as a model of success to which younger athletes can aspire.
“She’s a complete student-athlete,” Tweed said. “She’s in the top five of her class and just a really great kid. As a junior, she was the only captain of our team of some 80-90 kids. And yes, I do point to her quite often because she’s an example for other kids.”
Unfortunately, Monahan’s legacy at Manalapan has to conclude at some point, and she’s well aware of how bittersweet these next few months will be for her, despite any success she has on or off the track.
“It’s starting to get sad because everything now is my ‘last’ thing,” she said. “Like, for example, this weekend will be my last Monmouth County indoor meet and then the next meet will be my last for that. And in the spring it will be the same. So, I’m not really looking forward to it all being over. I don’t want it to end, but I know it has to.”