SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – Monisha Lewis keeps piling up the honors each time she laces up her spikes for the San Francisco State track team. Just last month the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association named her the athlete of the week which was a first for the program.
When you run the 60 meter indoor hurdles in 8.21 seconds, people begin to take notice.
“My mind runs a million miles a minute,” Lewis said. “You have to focus on every hurdle. There’s really not much you can think about.”
Gliding over hurdles is just the start of what Lewis has to balance in her jam-packed daily routine. Once Lewis finishes the two-hour afternoon practice on campus at Cox Stadium, attention shifts to her kids and their needs. And after she’s done helping them with homework, she dives in on her own.
“She juggles it all,” said coach Chioke Robinson. “She cooks, she cleans, she trains, she drops the kids off at school, and then switches with her husband. They have it working.”
To say Lewis took the outside lane to get here is an understatement. A decade ago she was a big-time recruit at Boise State, but Idaho ended up not being the right fit.
“I wasn’t focused,” she admitted. “I wasn’t doing what I had to do in the classroom.”
Out of options, Lewis moved back to Southern California, enrolled in community college, and eventually met her husband Darrin.
“We fell head over heels for each other,” Darrin said.
In 2012 their son Darrian was born, and then a year later daughter Journee. At the time, Lewis had a complete family, but she didn’t have a college degree, and she thought she could still compete on the track.
“I tried to find stories on athletes that have bounced back after babies,” she said. “And it’s hard to find them.”
Serena Williams is the latest example of this, but the tennis star hasn’t quite found her pre-pregnancy form.
Lewis was trying to find inspiration as she trained unattached, but her search was far from fulfilling.
Undeterred, Lewis emailed every division II track coach in the state and got a response from Robinson. A decade ago, Robinson encountered Lewis on the prep circuit at Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga.
It didn’t take much convincing to get Lewis to make the move north, and the selling points at San Francisco State made it inviting for her press the reset button on her track career.
“This school happened to be one of the only schools that had family housing and childcare on campus,” she said.
Journee attends a pre-school not far from the SF State track, and the family of four lives in university subsidized housing a few blocks away. To lighten the load even more, Lewis receives the George and Judy Marcus scholarship which is part of a $25 million gift to the school.
During the day Darrin works in construction, but has flexibility to help chauffeur the kids to and from school.
Once the family realized they could make ends meet in the Bay Area, Lewis dedicated herself to Gator track and she began posting the best times of her career — at the ripe age of 27.
“People ask me how I can have kids and run better,” she said. “I didn’t know my body could go the limits it did when I was pregnant. Once you get on the track you know there’s so much more your body can do.”
Lewis credits her children for making her stronger — both mentally and physically. Her success has helped vault the Gators to third in the USTFCCCA national rankings which the highest they’ve reached in program history.
In a sport where youth is paramount, Lewis’ maturity is an asset to the coaches.
“The younger kids can’t mouth off and say things,” Robinson said of the respect Lewis garners among her teammates. “That’s a mom. That’s a wife. She has kids.”
Lewis is nearly 10 years older than some of the women on the team, and she’s adopted the nickname Mama Mo around The Swamp. Darrian and Journee often come to practice and at times will participate in some of the conditioning drills.
The gamble to move to one of the most expensive cities in the nation is paying off for the Lewis family. Monisha will become the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree and she wants to transition into mentorship and education.
Her immediate goals, however, are focused on the track. She hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympics and Robinson believes it’s within reach.
“She absolutely has the talent,” Robinson said. “She needs the right people supporting her.”
Support is easy to find at home.
“She makes me proud every day,” said Darrin. “She’s a role model, she’s my rock.”