As she sits on the steps outside of Fisher Fine Arts Library, basking in the sun on an abnormally warm November day, Maeve Stiles (C ‘24) says, “I think the most important thing for any athlete is to be a person first.”

When Maeve began running track in eighth grade, she didn’t think she could get anywhere far with running; instead, she dedicated her time towards tennis and swimming. Yet, in her early years of high school, her cross country coach facilitated her falling in love with the sport. Running no longer played the role of a supporting character in her athletic life—rather, it became her primary focus. Now, the Virginia native is a record–breaking three–season runner for the Penn women’s track and field team.

When asked about how she balances being a three–season athlete while pursuing a biochemistry major, Maeve says, “I feel like I have different spheres of me.” During an exam–heavy week, she prioritizes “school me” and dedicates her time towards effective studying and getting enough sleep. During a big competition week, Maeve puts her “athlete me” first and spends hours in the training room. On an off weekend, instead of getting wrapped up in meet results or tests, she goes out and spends time with her friends. “We’re so much more than a grade or performance. We’re people,” she says. 

Last outdoor season, Maeve made the decision to take a break from the team. “I felt like I was becoming too wrapped up in my performance. I was exercising and competing in an unhealthy way where it wasn’t enjoyable for myself,” she says. Living by her motto of “being a person first,” Maeve says, “I actually decided to stop doing something I loved so much. I knew I wasn’t in the space to be able to love it and partake in it in the way that was healthy and the best for me and my future.” After taking a step back, Maeve returned to her supportive team with a healthier and more appreciative mindset. 

“100% of running is your brain and mental health, and 100% of life is your brain, because you live in that at all points of your day,” Maeve says. Fueled by this mindset and her own personal experience, Maeve joined Cogwell, a student group that runs mental health and active listening workshops around campus to create a supportive environment while promoting the importance of mental health conversations. “There has always been an atmosphere of ‘Let’s not talk about mental health,’” Maeve says. But mental health issues are not something to hide. “I want to push forward that the best athletes have gone through the most trauma and tribulations inside of their heads. And that’s what makes them great too.”

Maeve’s impact on campus doesn’t stop with mental health initiatives. As co–president of the Women’s Athletic Association, she hopes to encourage student female athletes to meet each other, connect outside of the playing field, and foster women's support across different sports. The WAA utilizes its social media platforms to heighten recognition of women’s sports at Penn, organizing networking events to connect students with past Penn alumni. “[My goal is to] make sure everyone is socially having a good time, and it’s not all about sports or all about school,” Maeve says. The WAA recently planned a large–scale dodgeball tournament for eight women’s sports teams, bringing Maeve’s ambitions into fruition.

Lily Murphy (C ‘26), Maeve’s teammate on the track and field team, is grateful for the WAA. “A lot of the women’s athletic teams at Penn really band together to support each other. The WAA helps create a special bond between female athletic teams here at Penn,” she says. 

“Every single time we get to go in the locker room,” Maeve says of her team, “we are always laughing. There’s music playing and it’s just so happy—[it’s] the time where I’m most enjoying and appreciating my sport.” She continues, “I could talk about all of the races I have and haven’t done, but at the end of the day, it’s just about feeling such a sense of community and enjoyment where I am.”

If Maeve’s life had a theme, it would be to appreciate the unexpected. “I honestly didn’t really believe in myself [regarding] running, academics, or anything,” she says. “Then suddenly I wake up and I’m like, ‘Oh my god. I’m here at Penn, I’m running well, and I also have so many great friends.’” 

Through all of her races, tests, mental health struggles, and other personal journeys, Maeve is most proud of her grit. “I feel like every time I get knocked down, I just want to come back up even stronger. I’m never going to get discouraged. I’m just going to keep going through life with a smile—maybe crying—but go through life and take it as it is,” she says. 

So while Maeve has earned All–Ivy recognition and can run a mile in less than five minutes, she believes the most valuable thing she’s learned from track is to not take anything too seriously. “It’s just a race, it’s just an exam, it’s just life,” she says. “At the end of the day it’s your happiness that you’re choosing first—always. It doesn’t matter [to make] other people proud as long as you’re having fun, enjoying your own life, and making yourself proud.”