Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor track star Kimball’s inner fire stoked by early-life affliction

Gig Harbor sophomore Mark Kimball grew up in severe poverty in Liberia and was adopted when he was six. He recorded the 19th-fastest 400-meter time ever for a freshman in the state of Washington last season.
Gig Harbor sophomore Mark Kimball grew up in severe poverty in Liberia and was adopted when he was six. He recorded the 19th-fastest 400-meter time ever for a freshman in the state of Washington last season. Special to the Gateway

Mark Kimball clocked the 19th-fastest 400-meter time ever for a freshman in the state of Washington last season at the Class 4A Narrows championships with a time of 50.21 seconds.

But if you ask him about it, you won’t get a boastful response.

“I look at that (time) but I don’t really focus on it much after that,” Kimball said. “I’m just trying to get a new time. It doesn’t mean everything to me ... it’s just a time. There are people out there that are better than me.”

Maybe it’s because Kimball knows track isn’t life or death. He’s lived life or death.

Kimball grew up in Liberia, a small country on Africa’s west coast.

“Back then, I didn’t really have the best life,” he said. “I was just kind of trying to keep going. There were objects in my way that I overcame.”

Kimball wore the same clothes every day as a child and never owned a pair of shoes. His mother had him as a teenager and he never knew her. And his father was never in the picture.

My dad didn’t want to go through taking care of me so he just left. I never knew my dad.

Mark Kimball, Gig Harbor sophomore

“My dad didn’t want to go through taking care of me so he just left,” Kimball said. “I never knew my dad.”

He was adopted when he was 6 years old and has lived in Gig Harbor ever since.

“He’s come here and he’s made the best of it,” Gig Harbor track coach Kevin Eager said. “When I was a 7 years old, life was pretty simple. His was a lot more complicated. He saw a lot of grown-up things that most kids around here don’t understand. He has a perspective on life that’s a little different.”

But opponents should be careful not to mistake his unique perspective, or his shy, quiet demeanor for apathy — the sophomore is a force on the track.

That fire burns hot in him. The intensity that he can bring to a workout — this is my 30th year coaching, and I haven’t seen too many guys like that.

Kevin Eager, Gig Harbor track coach

“He’s fired up to do well,” Eager said. “That fire burns hot in him. The intensity that he can bring to a workout — this is my 30th year coaching, and I haven’t seen too many guys like that. That kid can bring it.”

The journey Kimball has traveled has made him appreciative of what he has in life.

“I think he wants to make something of himself,” Eager said. “He understands what opportunity is. I don’t want to rip on Gig Harbor kids or anything, but it’s an affluent area and there’s a sense of entitlement, of course. The thing is, I don’t think he takes things for granted.”

50.21 Kimball’s record-setting time in the 400-meter

Kimball finished 12th in the 400 at the Class 4A state meet last season with a time of 51.26. He was the only freshman in the event, and one of only two underclassmen.

“It was really overwhelming but I was really excited, too,” Kimball said. “I knew I was going up against a bunch of seniors. I just wanted to try my best and have fun. That’s what Eager kept telling me, just to have fun. It’s just a race.”

Eager has coached some great athletes over the years, like Josh Jones in the 2000s, the school’s record holder in the 400 at 48.82, and others.

“I think Josh would tell you right now that he never ran workouts like this,” Eager said. “This kid is running workouts that those kids would have struggled with when they were seniors.”

Kimball has obvious potential, and could go down as one of Gig Harbor’s most prolific runners. If he ever wins a state title, there probably won’t be any throwing his arms in the air, screaming or jumping up and down.

“I’d crack a smile and thank God,” Kimball said. “Sometimes I just look back and say, ‘I’m happy to be here,’ and knowing that not everyone knows what I went through.”

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