Erica Birk-Jarvis was coming to the last kilometer of the race. She was exhausted, and all the BYU women’s cross country runner could see was the grass in front of her — everything else was a blur. A runner from Portland was right on her tail, and Birk-Jarvis struggled to keep up the pace.
Birk-Jarvis was so focused that the crowd’s cheers were muffled in her ears, but one phrase rang out, “Do it for Jack!”
That was all it took. Birk-Jarvis was no longer running for herself, she was running for her son, Jack. She felt a burst of energy that pushed her harder. Birk-Jarvis began to pull ahead and could no longer hear the Portland runner breathing behind her.
Birk-Jarvis crossed the finish line (19:45.6) six seconds ahead of the second place runner and became the first runner from BYU to win the women’s West Coast Conference Championship.
The second oldest of five children, Birk-Jarvis grew up in Coalville, Utah, a small town in the northern part of the state. The town is mainly farmland, and the rural town makes Provo seem like a big city.
Birk-Jarvis’ mother, Nicole Birk, ran for BYU track and field and always hoped one of her children would do the same. Nicole said she knew Erica would be a runner ever since she was little.
Nicole recounted that, as a child, Erica refused to get in the stroller. When they would go on walks, Erica insisted she run alongside the stroller, pushing it with her mother.
“Her little legs would just go ‘dit dit dit dit’ on the sidewalk, like they were hitting hot coals,” Nicole said. “(At) just 3 years old she was running, and I thought, ‘She’s going to be the one that’s going to run.’”
No one knew just how great of a runner Erica would become.
She didn’t start running competitively until high school when her older sister, Ali, started to run cross country. Like any younger sister, Erica wanted to be just like her older sister.
Erica had a natural talent for running and enjoyed the sport, but her diligence and hard work has brought her to the level she is at today.
According to Erica’s husband, Tyler Jarvis, the one word to describe Erica is “dedicated.”
A typical day for Erica is to wake up at 5:30 a.m. and run six to eight miles before she goes to school. She’ll go to class and check in with professors to see how she can do better in each course. Then she will take an ice bath and go to the trainers to have her legs worked on.
Depending on the day, she does a cross training workout and will ride a stationary bike for an hour. Then she goes home to finish her homework and is in bed by 10 p.m.
“There’s no one telling her to do it,” Tyler said. “There’s no one to motivate her. She just does it.”
In 2017, Erica found out she was pregnant. She took the next two semesters off and she and her husband moved to his hometown in Canada during her pregnancy.
They lived there for a year, and while there, she didn’t stop running. Erica even trained on the day she gave birth.
Erica said before she had Jack, she thought she would be done running. But she realized she couldn’t stop — running had become a part of who she is. She wasn’t going to take it for granted any more.
“I love running,” Erica said. “I don’t know how to give it up. I need to finish my eligibility on a good note, not just quit or stop, even though (Jack) is a big thing. I didn’t want to stop because of him. I just wanted to finish.”
Finishing is what she has done. After taking 20 months off, Erica made quite the comeback, winning awards and making career-best times.
Erica won first in the BYU Autumn Classic, Notre Dame Joe Piane Invite and West Coast Conference Championship. She also took fourth at Pre-Nationals and third at the NCAA Mountain Regionals.
Nicole said she is most proud of her daughter because she has stuck with her training and running career.
“(Erica) just really wanted her baby to know that she didn’t quit, so that she could be an example for him in his life (of) sticking through it,” Nicole said.
Jack is what continually drives Erica to do better and run harder. Tyler and Jack attend every home meet Erica races in, and they are the first people she goes to after the race is finished.
“I think it’s so good to be passionate about something, and I am passionate about running,” Erica said. “I realized, I’ll probably never be done running. I look at Jack and I know I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to come back, and he has too.”