Story by Nicole Johansson

The two shiny new drinking fountains and water bottle refill stations next to the track in University Stadium are a perfect metaphor for senior MacKenzie Deeter.

After four years as a hurdler on the track and field team, the business administration major wants to ensure future generations of her Wildcat family, as well as any visitors, are hydrated and encouraged to use reusable water bottles. It was a bit of a leap to get the stations installed, but she’s proud to know her leadership, goal-setting, and grit left a personal record on campus.

“If you can make it through a grueling workout while getting pelted with hail, or get off the ground dizzy to run another rep then go lift, you have the mental strength to overcome all sorts of challenges. In moments where I feel like giving up, I just remember my goals and keep going,” she said. “If you love what you are doing and believe in the mission, you will find the motivation.”

Deeter also found meaningful support from her teammates, who have a reputation for considering themselves “Ohana,” which means family in Hawaiian. Their close-knit connection convinced her to become a Wildcat in the first place and continues to remind her what truly matters.

“If you’re on the team, you’re family forever. It doesn’t matter what year you ran—when you meet another person who ran track for Chico, you have an immediate connection. It’s what makes our program different and special,” said Veronica Graves, (Physical Education, ’02; MA, Kinesiology, ’11), who held the women’s 400-meter hurdles record for a decade. Since returning as coach last year, Graves has appreciated the chance to get to know and coach Deeter, who has attacked and eclipsed her own goals on the track.

MacKenzie Deeter mimics leaping over a hurdle with another teammate.
MacKenzie Deeter, right, said friendly competition with her teammates drives her to be her very best—and pushes them to do the same, a model she knows she’ll use in the business world, too. (Photo courtesy of Wildcat Athletics)

“Hurdles are hard, and MacKenzie’s event is probably one of the most difficult in the sport,” Graves said. “In addition to being a great athlete, she is approachable and someone you want to have as a friend.”

Deeter’s final year as a Wildcat got off to an impressive start, when she posted a personal best of 1:07.48 in the 400-meter hurdles at the March 6 Kim Duyst Invitational. That was her last chance to run before the coronavirus pandemic shut down competition for the remainder of the 2020 season.

Deeter was heartbroken by the termination of a season she had trained so hard for but grateful to have been transformed by four years with her “Ohana.”

“Nothing can compare to having the support of a team and coaches who believe in you and who are willing to work with you to be the best you can be,” she said. “They inspire me, and I hope I do the same for them.” 

Deeter spent a great deal of her academic career speaking up and trying to set an example. With a minor in sustainability management, she presented at conferences including as the Sense of the Place Symposium and This Way to Sustainability conference. She also spoke up during fee referendum open forums, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee meetings, and at Sustainable Procurement subcommittee meetings, catalyzing change on campus. A big part of what she wants to do in her future is create corporate change by demonstrating the value of environmental sustainability to both the business and the planet.

If anyone can be successful in that regard, it’s Deeter, said Cheri Chastain, the University’s sustainability manager and Deeter’s on-campus supervisor. She describes the graduating senior as “the coworker you want on your team.”

“She’s supportive, positive, and recognizes when someone needs to step up and do something,” said Chastain (MA, Geography, ’07), noting Deeter’s drinking fountain project was also an example of her tenacity and academic success.

“MacKenzie wants to be in sales, and you should have seen her sell her project,” Chastain said of the Shark Tank-style pitch. “The Bell Memorial Union Committee (BMUC) originally gave her $12,000, but when they had some funds left over at the end, MacKenzie convinced them they should give her more, and she’s done an amazing job managing it.”

MacKenzie Deeter poses with a reusable water bottle near the water filling stations.
After the successful installation of these water stations near University Stadium, a third station is in the works. (Photo courtesy of Deeter)

She completed the project for her on-campus job with Sustainable Consultants of Office Practices (SCOOP), which she first joined in fall 2017 when it was still a club. Last year, it became an FMS internship, and in August 2019, Deeter was hired as the SCOOP project coordinator, serving as a sustainability consultant and auditor for the environmental and cost-efficiency of on-campus offices. Her responsibilities included managing up to seven interns each semester.

Deeter was in the middle of managing a sustainable office audit project when the coronavirus pandemic shifted the campus to virtual operations. Instead of abandoning it, she pivoted and worked with her interns on Zoom to create a home office audit that allows anyone to self-evaluate their home workspace.

The tool is now available online, along with an office departure checklist she created for when faculty are away from their offices for long periods of time. Deeter was looking forward to her next project, which was to encourage students to bring refillable water bottles and use the potable water valve next to the stage for Commencement, which is now also being held virtually.

“We are now working on the logistics to ensure it will be there by next year,” she said.

The pandemic also brought Deeter has come full circle with the true meaning of Ohana.

At the beginning of the spring semester, her mother was hospitalized. She spent weeks in ICU and has been recovering for the last few months. While Deeter has missed competition and time with her teammates, she happily finished out the semester at home in Santa Cruz with her mom.

MacKenzie Deeter laughs as teammates cover her in body paint before a track meet.
Deeter said her time with her Wildcat teammates, including painting themselves with Chico and Ohana pride at competitions, will be among her treasured college memories. (Photo courtesy of Deeter)

She also continues weekly chats with Graves about life that sound more like conversations between family than runner and coach.

“MacKenzie is very disciplined,” Graves said. “She’s definitely the one who calls me every week. She really cares about people as who they are. She wants to know you and what’s important to you.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has granted this year’s seniors eligibility to run next year, and it’s an emotional opportunity, Deeter said, especially considering how much she loved her Chico Experience. Most likely, though, she will continue with her post-college job search.

“Things right now are so uncertain, but that is life—life is equally uncertain,” she said. “You have to be thankful and always try your best.”

Nicole Johansson is a Butte County resident who has worked as a marketing communications professional for the last 23 years. She is passionate about contributing as a writer and communicator to make our community a better place.