Mackenzie Heikes

Mackenzie Heikes, Florence High School’s salutatorian, plans to major in biomedical science at NAU before going on to medical school. She hopes to be either a pediatrician or orthopedic surgeon.

FLORENCE -- A top student and athlete, Mackenzie Heikes still manages to read a book every week or so.

“But the book with the most profound impact on me would probably be ‘Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.’ My grandpa told me to read it when I was 12. Since then, I’ve read it a couple of times, and it had a pretty strong impact on me.”

The overall themes of finding balance in your life, making good decisions and being the best person you can were lessons that helped her become this year’s Florence High School salutatorian. Hard work and dedication to her grades helped her make it this far, but finding the right balance was also important, she told PinalCentral.

“Because if you’re just stuck in your room studying all day, you’re not going to be happy with your other life, so you’re eventually going to fail at succeeding in the classroom, too. I feel like the reason I’ve found success in the classroom is from balancing my social life and my school life.”

Her favorite school memories are being in the stands at football games and just hanging out with friends. “School was always really important to me, but I feel like the social stuff is what you really hold onto.”

An athletic 6’1”, Heikes also makes time for sports. She tore her rotator cuff last year during basketball season. If there was a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that there was no track season last year, which gave her arm more time to heal. This year, “I was able to come back better than I was before.” She’s now one of the state’s top javelin throwers, and finished fourth in the Arizona State Track and Field Championships.

But COVID-19 was still disruptive. Heikes was in quarantine twice after being exposed to the virus, then caught it herself in mid-December during final exams. In all, she was out for five weeks, either in quarantine or for her own illness. Her own bout with COVID was fortunately brief; only a couple of days with a fever.

Heikes had always been a straight-A student, but by seventh grade she was losing her spark. “I was really bored. I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Then as a seventh grader she took the 8th grade state exam, and scored higher than the eighth graders in her school, at that time Imagine Prep in Coolidge.

She was allowed to skip 8th grade, and it was a kind of new beginning. “I knew what I wanted to accomplish,” Heikes said. She and her brother, Trevor, came to FHS. “My brother was a senior my freshman year, so we decided to go with Florence. I think it was a great decision. I have a good sense of family with the people here.” Trevor is now at Northern Arizona University, majoring in criminal justice.

Heikes credits her parents, Nancy Meadows-Heikes and Michael Heikes, with pushing her to succeed. Also, she said her grandfather John Meadows of Queen Creek is “an amazing man” who has always taught her to have a work ethic.

She continued that a few standout teachers, such as Robin Tobar, knew what she could do and expected the best. “They taught me to be a better writer and a more outstanding student.” Now a school administrator, Tobar was Heikes’ English teacher her sophomore year.

Since Heikes was little, she has wanted to be a doctor and help people. Her plan is to major in biomedical science at NAU before going on to medical school. She hopes to be either a pediatrician or orthopedic surgeon.

Even with pre-med classes, she may not be done with sports. She recently went on an official visit to

Elmhurst University near Chicago for javelin throwing, and she’s currently talking to NAU about javelin, too, “but we’ll see what happens.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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