Urbana senior balancing track success with motherhood

High School Sports

URBANA (WCIA) — It’s been a little more than a year since Shaniya Howard’s life changed forever. 

“I was crying, I was scared,” Howard said.

As a junior at Urbana High School, Howard gave birth to her daughter Sa’Nylah at just 17 years old.

“It was like, dang, I messed up my own life,” she said when reflecting on the moment she found out she was pregnant.

“(I was) more disappointed than upset because I know that she has so much ahead of her,” Shaniya’s mother Floretha Pierce said.

That included a bright future in track and field. Howard placed fourth at state in the high jump as a sophomore. Determined to earn her diploma and finish her track career with another trip to state, Howard returned to school and the track team just four weeks after giving birth.

“I was determined to make it to state,” Howard said. “I came back for school and track practice. I had to.”

And she did, taking fourth at state again as a junior. But it hasn’t been easy juggling school, track and work. During the week, Howard says she leaves the house by 8 a.m. and doesn’t return home until after 10 p.m. most nights. She works a part-time job to help pay the bills.

“Just the nights you up all night, she (Sa’Nylah) crying,” Howard said. “You got to go to school off of two hours of sleep. Or you got to feed her or you got to bathe her, this this and that. It’s kind of hard to balance.”

“She’s never been a mother before, so everything was new to her,” said Pierce. “I want her to graduate. I didn’t want her to be another statistic.” 

As a single mother, Howard can’t do it alone. She relies on her mother and other members of her family to help care for and support Sa’Nylah. 

“When my family’s around it’s not that hard because they always so helpful about everything, watching her, taking her with them places if I’m tired, just everything,” Howard said.

Earlier this month, Howard won a Big 12 indoor title in the high jump and was part of the winning 1,600-meter relay team. Just a few days later, the family celebrated Sa’Nylah’s first birthday by watching Howard and the Urbana girls’ track and field team take 2nd at the Gene Armer Invitational. 

“That’s her baby,” Pierce said. “I’m like, ‘That’s your baby.’”

A sweet reminder of just how far Howard and her daughter have come.

“I just want to see her make it, and I know she will,” said Pierce. “I trust and believe God that she’ll just blossom to be a great woman.”

“Some days you think you can’t make it but you do,” Howard said. “So you just got to keep pushing through the end.”

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