While many kids her age are playing video games or hanging out with friends, Martha Kate Jessop has dedicated herself to running. The 11-year-old starting running in third grade and has her sights on bigger, long-term challenges.

Martha Kate, who comes from a family of runners, starting getting into track and cross country several years ago on the junior varsity team at Farmington Elementary. The following year, she made the varsity team and competed in a race, placing in eight on her team of 15.

“My dad used to run. That’s probably where I got my running from,” Martha Kate says.

Martha Kate’s dad, Stephen Jessop, ran in college and completed half marathons with his own father. He encourages his daughter and attends meets to try to push her further.

“My dad makes me laugh by yelling at me to run faster. He runs around and yells out my time and tells me to beat people. So then they go faster and I can’t beat them,” she jokes.

Martha Kate’s goal last track season was to get a time under seven minutes in the 1600 meters; her fastest time was a 6:48 mile. Next year, Martha Kate will be attending Houston Middle School and will have to run two miles in cross country. She hopes to break 15 minutes for the distance.

“I like cross country because I like long distance running. I’m not a sprinter. I like to pace myself. That’s what you do in long distance running,” says Martha Kate.

In 2017, Martha Kate went to the state meet and won fifth place in the junior varsity girls race, which brought her to nationals.

“Practice isn’t very fun, but I like the meets. And I also like the fun trips that we go on and the team. I have great friends on the team,” she says.

Kimberly Jessop, Martha Kate’s mother, is a stage four melanoma survivor, so the family started organizing the Miles for Melanoma Memphis race in 2015. The 2019 race will be held on August 3 at Shelby Farms Park. Martha Kate has run the 5K two years in a row, once with her mom and last year on her own.

Martha Kate’s 14-year-old brother, Bailey, was running cross country for Houston Middle School when he was diagnosed with bone cancer. He was treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and is now doing well. He volunteers at the Miles for Melanoma 5K as well as the St. Jude marathon; the entire family is involved in putting together the 5K. 

Last year, the Germantown School System sponsored part of the Walk/Run for St. Jude. Martha Kate saved all of her summer money from her lemonade stand and donated $300 to St. Jude in honor of her brother.

When asked what she thinks about while she is running, Martha Kate is motivated by things that any young girl would love, such as shoes.

One cross country race, my mom told me that she would buy me these high heels I really wanted if I got a good time. And I did. Those shoes were what I was thinking about,” she says.

As for her favorite gear, Martha Kate is partial to her Nike running tanks and shorts, but when it comes to shoes, she has to be flexible.

“We have to go with whatever fits her tiny feet,” Kimberly says. “Most of the shoes for kids her age are Velcro instead of laces.”

While the soon-to-be middle schooler is excited about her upcoming running season, she is also looking forward to having a long career as a runner and trying out longer distances when she is old enough.

“I don’t know if I can do a marathon, but when I’m older, I’ll do a half marathon for St. Jude,” she says.

By Christin Yates

Photo by Taylor Tartera