Provo • When she learned she was pregnant in the spring of 2017, BYU track and cross country star Erica Birk-Jarvis was overjoyed about the prospects of becoming a mother, but also disheartened because it meant her promising college running career was probably over.
“Most moms can’t do it,” said her husband, Tyler Jarvis. “It is pretty much unheard of, what she’s doing.”
According to Runner’s World magazine, no official records are kept on the matter, “but the only woman in recent memory to earn D-I All-America honors after having a baby is [Colorado’s] Sara Vaughn, who placed 31st at the NCAA Championships in 2007.”
Make that two.
Birk-Jarvis was an All-American before she gave birth to her son, Jack, on Dec. 27, 2017, and is again — in both cross country and indoor track and field. She will try for more All-America accolades in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships next month in Austin.
She won her first race as a mother — the BYU Autumn Classic — last fall and also won the Notre Dame Joe Piane Invitational. She was fourth at the Pre-Nationals Invitational, won the WCC championship, was third at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships and seventh at the NCAA National Championships.
Remarkably, she’s faster now than she was in 2016.
"I feel like Jack gives me this extra strength that I didn’t have before,” Birk-Jarvis said. "I am definitely more confident now than I have been, for some reason, as a runner. And when I travel, I am not like, ‘am I going to have a bad race today?’ I just know I am going to do my best because I am taking time to leave him.”
Sunday marks the third Mother’s Day since the couple met on their church missions in Cleveland and the second since they had Jack, now 16 months old.
“Since having a baby, my appreciation for mothers has gone up so much, and I have even more gratitude for the sacrifices my own mother [former BYU distance runner Nicole Waldrop] has made for me,” Birk-Jarvis said.
She’s also thankful for another role model in her life, BYU associate head track and field coach and women’s cross country head coach Diljeet Taylor, who is a mother of two.
At first, Birk-Jarvis was hesitant to tell her teammates and coach that she was pregnant and seriously considering calling it a career. She had earned All-West Coast Conference first team honors in the fall of 2016, shortly after returning from her church mission, and was 34th at the NCAA championships. Her future in the sport was bright.
“Oh yeah, it was so hard,” she said. “I didn’t want to tell coach Taylor. But I had to tell our trainer, because it was still in the outdoor season. And yeah, she was crying when I told her. I couldn’t even look at her. It was a horrible moment.”
But rather than express disgust that one of her star runners was not going to be a contributor in the 2017 cross country season, Taylor offered nothing but support.
The pregnancy wasn’t planned, and “I thought for sure I would be done with running,” Birk-Jarvis said. “But coach Taylor was like, ‘have the baby, and then make a choice.’ So I just didn’t feel like I had a lot of pressure to come back if I didn’t want to.”
The couple moved to Tyler’s hometown in Alberta, Canada to have the baby and so Tyler could help run the family’s business — 3 Rivers Adventures — a hunting guide and outfitting service.
They returned to Utah when Birk-Jarvis decided to resume her running career, but her husband still returns to Canada often. He was guiding a bear-hunting trip earlier this week, for instance, and won’t return until the end of May.
“I was actually up here guiding these bear hunts when I found out Erica was pregnant,” he said. “Erica was doing really well with her running at the time, so I was a little disappointed. … I was delighted when we talked to coach Taylor and figured out a way that Erica could return to the team after she had Jack. I was always really hoping she could keep that dream.”
When he is in Utah, Tyler runs his window washing company, installs satellites for DISH Network and watches Jack when Birk-Jarvis is at school, training, or at meets.
So from his perspective, how does Birk-Jarvis stay on top of it all?
"She’s a great mother. It is easy to get overwhelmed by how much there is to do and how little time there is to do it, and just the largeness of it all,” he said. "But she does the little things every single day, and somehow manages it all. Obviously, she is dedicated and motivated and very committed to it. She’s just naturally driven.”
Birk-Jarvis said the successes are “100 times more enjoyable now” because of the sacrifices that brought them.
“Every time I’m running, I think of Jack, and I want to make my time away from him count,” she said. “No question, having a baby has really helped me.”
Nearby Utah Valley University’s track team also includes a mother. Aisha Graham-Perez returned six weeks after giving birth to represent UVU at the WAC championships last spring and earned All-WAC honors at the league’s cross country championships last fall.
Track Star Erica Birk-Jarvis, BYU’s All-American Mom
• Set several 2A state records in track and cross country at Coalville’s North Summit High
• Earned All-American honors in 2016 after finishing in the top 40 at NCAA National Championships
• Married Tyler Jarvis in April of 2016 and gave birth to a son, Jack, on Dec. 27, 2017
• Was medalist at the West Coast Conference cross country championships and earned All-American honors at national championships for the second time last fall
• Won the mile run at the MPSF Indoor Championships in February