Whether taekwondo, track or academics, Barlow’s Schweitzer remains balanced and focused

Long before she became a state track and field champion in the hurdles, long jump and heptathlon, Mariella Schweitzer was well into another sport.

She was 4 when she took up taekwondo.

“I don’t know exactly what made me want to do it,” Schweitzer said. “I just know as a little kid I was really active, a little mischievous as well. I was a bit of a tomboy. I was like, ‘Martial arts is cool.'”

Mariella had to decide which one was the coolest.

“I have this memory of going to all these different martial arts classes,” she said. “We tried a bunch of them. I don’t even think I knew what taekwondo was. I just ended up connecting with the master and that type of martial arts.”

There are photos from when the taekwondo trophies were as tall as she was. No more. At 5-foot-6, Schweitzer is a third-degree black belt.

Before Barlow’s Mariella Schweitzer became a state track and field champion in the hurdles, long jump and heptathlon, she was winning taekwondo trophies.

Submitted / Schweitzer family

During the track season at Joel Barlow High in Redding, the 17-year-old senior cuts her time down to volunteering with classes. Outside track season, she resumes her training a couple of times a week at World Champion Tae Kwon Do in Ridgefield on form, self-defense, kicking, breaking.

“I consider it more of an art than a defense mechanism,” Schweitzer said. “It’s really beautiful if you think about it. The type of kicks, being able to whip your leg around, all these crazy ways, the dynamic of kicking sets taekwondo apart.”

There are only a handful of third-degree black belts in her studio. For a fourth degree (Dan), she said, you must be 18 and she believes she’d have to go to South Korea to take the test. If she has the time at college, she’ll continue to pursue classes.

Schweitzer “absolutely” plans to make martial arts a part of her adult life.

Before Barlow's Mariella Schweitzer became a state track and field champion in the hurdles, long jump and heptathlon, she was winning taekwondo trophies.

Before Barlow’s Mariella Schweitzer became a state track and field champion in the hurdles, long jump and heptathlon, she was winning taekwondo trophies.

Submitted / Schweitzer family

Let’s see. Connecticut outdoor record holder in the 300 hurdles at 43.18 seconds, third-degree black belt in taekwondo, a future Ivy Leaguer at Dartmouth planning to major in biomedical engineering.

To quote Barlow coach Ryan Swift, “She is a VERY talented young lady.”

This past indoor season was a satisfying one. Not unexpectedly, Schweitzer won the 55 hurdles (8.52) in the State Open and was second in the 300. Yet it was her long jump, culminating in a state title and a personal-best 18-5, where she found the most improvement.

“It was an event I’d always felt I had a really bad mental block with,” Schweitzer said. “I didn’t feel like I would be getting better. This indoor season I had a pretty big breakthrough. I’m really happy about it.”

Joel Barlow's Mariella Schweitzer competes in the long jump during the CIAC indoor track championships on Feb.  10.

Joel Barlow’s Mariella Schweitzer competes in the long jump during the CIAC indoor track championships on Feb. 10.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

Although Schweitzer did have a 17-11.25 PR outdoor last year, she finished ninth in the State Open at 16-7.5. This past indoor season she won the SWC meet at 17-9.25, Class M at 18-4 and the State Open at 18-5. She finished second in the New England championships at 18-2.25.

Schweitzer credits Dave Lado from New Jersey.

“This indoor season I started getting actual long jump training with a coach,” Schweitzer said. “When I started getting that, I saw a complete difference in distance and the way I jump.”

Schweitzer started track in the fifth grade with the Wilton Running Club. There she met Kevin Foley, who doubled as coach of Connecticut Elite.

“I always saw the hurdlers and was really interested in it,” Schweitzer said. “I was told by my coach ‘You’re young, you’re too short, you can’t go over the hurdles right now.’ Every single year I’d ask. ‘Am I ready now?'”

Finally, at the end of the seventh grade, Foley told her, “Yeah, we can try it.”

“It clicked with me,” she said. “It was something that was natural. Ever since then the same coach has been coaching me and helping me get so much better across the years. (Foley) moved to Massachusetts and unfortunately hasn’t been able to coach me since December.”

Before Barlow's Mariella Schweitzer became a state track and field champion in the hurdles, long jump and heptathlon, she was winning taekwondo trophies.

Before Barlow’s Mariella Schweitzer became a state track and field champion in the hurdles, long jump and heptathlon, she was winning taekwondo trophies.

Submitted / Schweitzer family

Without a 2020 outdoor track season because of COVID, Schweitzer ran in her backyard, practiced hurdles on the patio. Worked on technique. Started lifting. In June, Schweitzer told our Dan Nowak that before COVID his goal was to break 44 seconds in the 300 hurdles by the end of her senior year. She had no idea what the state record was.

And then she almost broke 43 as a junior to win the 2021 State Open in New Britain, where she also won the 100 hurdles in 14.52.

“Going into this outdoor season, I’m excited to possibly break 14,” Schweitzer said. “That would be amazing if I could do it.”

The state record is 14.16.

Schweitzer decided to take a foray into the CIAC heptathlon in June — a week after the State Open — and used first-places in the 100 hurdles, 200 and long jump to win 3,974 points.

“This year, I’m hoping to do it again,” she said. “There are a couple of events (heptathlon also includes high jump, javelin, shot put and 800), I need a little more training in, to get down the skills, and I then feel I can get further with it.”

Schweitzer said she looked at a variety of colleges.

“I never would have thought I would pick Dartmouth,” Schweitzer said. “The coach reached out to me in late October. I took my official visit there. What really stood out to me was the people and the environment. I love the team and coach.

“Out of all the schools I was touring, I felt like it really had a good balance.”

Joel Barlow's Mariella Schweitzer competes in the 300-meter dash during the CIAC indoor track championships Feb.  10.

Joel Barlow’s Mariella Schweitzer competes in the 300-meter dash during the CIAC indoor track championships Feb. 10.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

Schweitzer felt like the athletics wouldn’t overpower her academics and her academics wouldn’t overpower her athletics. Maybe it’s nature. Maybe it’s nurture. Maybe it’s taekwondo. Balance is important to Mariella Schweitzer. Ultimately, she chose Dartmouth over Virginia and Georgetown.

While it is impossible to account for the hundreds who competed in the indoor State Open at the Floyd Little Athletic Center on Feb. 19, I swear Schweitzer was the only one I saw compete with her mask properly worn over her nose and mouth. Schweitzer said her mom advocated for wearing the mask. Annette Maffei, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist.

“They were saying if you had your mask down, you’d get disqualified, even though everyone was saying it wasn’t true,” Schweitzer said. “I just didn’t want to take any risk of disqualification.

“I was also scared with all those people around, and being at the peak of the season, if my mask was down, I’d definitely be more at risk for being exposed to COVID or just being sick and out for the New Englands. “

Schweitzer clearly thinks about most everything, although when asked she hadn’t thought about it much, but yes, the big kicks from taekwondo do translate to hurdles. She obviously improved in form over the years, but even when she started she just wasn’t simply jumping over hurdles like most kids. She was hurdling.

“Where taekwondo seriously has helped me is in the mental aspects,” Schweitzer said. “Through high school, my ability to take a defeat or a major step back, I feel I handle it very well. I see a lot of other people around me if they did bad in a race or get a bad injury, it mentally really takes a toll on them. Both are mental sports, and if you don’t have the right mindset you won’t succeed.

“I love the track, but the older I get I also know I won’t be able to continuously go over hurdles. My dad (Robert) does taekwondo with me. He counts it as a really good form of exercise. It’s great for flexibility, to stay in shape and for your mind as well.”

Schweitzer points to her specialties of board-breaking and sparring to make a point.

“You sort of convince your mind to let go of any fear of what’s going to happen,” Schweitzer said. “Board-breaking is more painful than you think. Usually at the end of a routine, your feet are bleeding. Within the moment, you have to clear your mind and just let it go. That helps me with my running. Let it go and run. If I did bad, let it go and keep going.”

If someway, somehow Mariella Schweitzer breaks a hurdle with her foot and still wins a state championship, remember, taekwondo is an art form.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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