Mackenzie Dixon: An Undefeated Mentor
March 10, 2023
Mackenzie Dixon is fast.
At eighteen years old, she qualified for the junior Olympics in her track and field event. She couldn’t attend — she was already busy, studying abroad in South Africa.
Dixon began running in fourth grade, inspired by her parents’ high school athletic careers. There was no “aha moment,” no conscious decision that she wanted to continue, to pursue the sport competitively or to have it become a major part of her life’s course. Really, she just never stopped.
“It’s always just been a really big part of who I am as a person,” she said.
By the end of her first year of college, Dixon was the number one freshman in the country in the 800-meter event. She tore her way through school records, qualifying for national meets and proudly representing her university.
But as much as she achieved in track, athletics were not Dixon’s sole focus. A multitasker at heart, Dixon needed more than one extracurricular to fill up her schedule.
“I like being busy,” she said. “I think it’s better for me as a person and for my mental health just to be busy all the time.”
Dixon immersed herself in all areas of the campus community. Beyond her major in biology, she picked up a minor in environmental science and a certificate in photography. She devoted time to Big Blue Backpacks and My College Buddy, volunteer programs that allow students to support and mentor young people in the local area. She studied abroad, learning from cultural immersion in South Africa and Germany — and of course, practiced for track in her spare time.
“It depended on where we were at. Like, you’re not going to run in the middle of the bush. You might get eaten by something,” she said. “But in Germany, that was actually kind of nice. It was nice to run and look at things and the scenery changes.”
As a member of Alpha Chi Omega, one of the school’s three Panhellenic sororities, Dixon found a supportive community outside of her sport. The organization was her time away from running, made up of primarily non-student athlete members.
“I could tell them that I ran an eight-minute mile and they’d be like ‘Yes!’ It’s just unwavering support,” she said.
Dixon quickly became a leader within the group, rising to hold the positions of vice president of recruitment information and chapter president before her senior year. She followed in the footsteps of her mother, also an alumna of the sorority.
“It was really nice to not have to feel like I was doing sports all the time and not have to feel like I was doing Greek life all the time,” Dixon said. “I need separation in my life.”
As Dixon’s senior year came to an end, she was faced with a choice: she could leave campus and explore outside opportunities or spend another year at Millikin to earn her master’s degree in business. A graduate assistant position was open in the Office of Campus Life, and with her undergraduate involvement in Greek life, Dixon knew she had plenty of insight to give to and to gain from such a position.
The decision to stay allowed Dixon to gain valuable professional experience while still maintaining the busy, interdepartmental schedule that she had grown to love. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing countless cancellations in 2020, extended eligibility was offered as an option for graduate student athletes interested in running during the 2021 season. Dixon didn’t stay at Millikin solely to run, but her athletic career felt incomplete, and it certainly made her choice easier.
“No matter what, athletics are going to end at some point and school is going to end, so what else are you creating for yourself?” Dixon said.
Dixon fell into a natural rhythm within the position, quickly becoming an integral member of the Campus Life team. Upon graduation, she was offered a full-time position within the office.
“This obviously set my career path that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t stay another year,” she said.
Now, under the title of Coordinator of Campus Life Residential Communities, Dixon manages Millikin’s registered student organizations and resident assistants. She lives on campus, in an apartment-style room in Dolson Hall, leaving her fully immersed in her work at all hours.
“When I first started, I think I was really bad about working all the time. Like if I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep, I would answer emails or work for a little bit,” she said.
She spends most of her time, however, working with students directly — the element of her job she thinks is most rewarding. Her office, on the third floor of the University Commons, is dimly lit, stylishly decorated and filled with snacks, coloring books and fidget toys for her visitors.
“If people want something, I want them to feel comfortable having it,” Dixon said. “I want people to come here to feel calm.”
Bekah Leipold, a Millikin junior and member of the RA staff, has regular meetings with Dixon and loves her office space. Outside of their scheduled meeting times, Leipold likes to stop by just to check in.
“Mackenzie has put a lot of effort into making sure the students that come into her office feel safe and have outlets,” Leipold said. “It’s really homey and she makes it feel like a safe space.”
Dixon’s positive influence on Millikin students is nothing new, however. Andrew Craycraft, a long-time track coach and friend, recalls Dixon’s undergraduate days with pride. He believes Dixon had an overwhelming impact on the growth of their team, both as a talented athlete and a reliable support system for her peers.
“She’s having conversations with somebody who she knows is quiet, is distant from the team or is struggling with their mental health. That made a huge difference for our team,” he said. “She ended up becoming the person that everybody confided in, and it was such a cool thing for me to see because that was the opposite of who she was as a freshman.”
As important as running has been over the course of Dixon’s life, it’s been equally mentally straining. She is perseverant by nature, and constant self-competition is exhausting. For Craycraft, coaching became primarily about encouraging Dixon she could make it to the starting line.
“Once she was there,” said Craycraft, “when the gun goes off, nine times out of ten I just feel bad for everybody else out there because she’s going to lay waste to everything in front of her.”
Reflecting on her 15-year career as a runner, Dixon recognizes that the sport unlocked a vulnerable state within her.
“The event that I run, you have to be quite literally willing to run yourself into a wall. I can do that, and that’s why I was good,” she said.
Now, with no competitions to practice for, Dixon is taking a hiatus and trying to build a new, less-draining relationship with running.
“It’s weird,” she said. “How do you go on a jog without, like, feeling a purpose, you know?”
Dixon’s one-year-old puppy, Kalli, has helped her to find some of that purpose. Despite their attempts to run together, Dixon has found walking Kalli on campus to be much more successful.
“She tries, but she just isn’t good at pacing,” she said. “She bolts and then she’ll be too tired to keep going.”
Outside of her busy work schedule, Dixon also likes to use her free time to play video games. She prefers open-world RPGs, like “Skyrim” and “Fallout.”
“That’s a low-key secret,” she said. “Something nobody really knows.”
Mackenzie Dixon’s name is all over the record books. At Millikin University, though, her accomplishments cannot be summarized in any set of numbers. There is no medal or trophy that can recognize the lives she’s touched here or the value of the work she does every day.
Now, she is in the process of running the Office of Campus Life’s Women’s History Month programming, ensuring that the young women of Millikin have the opportunity to hear from inspiring individuals and make their voices heard.
Next time you need to vent, eat a snack or just find some peace and quiet, stop by the third floor of the UC. Dixon will be there to do whatever she can to support you, and in the meantime, you’ll have plenty to talk about.