Jelani Heath plays by her own rules.
Heath just goes about life with the Rogers High girls track and field team by her own personal set of guidelines — plain and simple with no complaints. Not from teammates, and certainly not from any of her coaches.
According to Heath, it’s all about her rules — or more directly, her diet. Take for example her recent performance April 15 at the Oregon Relays in Eugene.
She was nervous before the big meet. Before arriving there, her coach took her to the Woodburn Premium Outlets mall, and she went and got a smoothie and ate two doughnuts on the way. Those snacks could be considered a coach’s — and nutritionist’s or dentist’s — nightmare. Sugar-packed powdered doughnuts, greasy potato chips and more sugar from soda and candy are all junk food that should wipe away an athlete’s energy.
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Yet for Heath, they don’t.
“At the start of practice or in a team meeting, the coach will ask where Jelani’s at, and we’ll say she’s in the back eating a bag of chips,” teammate Destiny Whaley said with a laugh.
“Yeah, I have my own rules,” Heath joked about her nutritional choices.
Her rules are simple: Live life free and worry about the consequences later.
So far the results have spoken as Heath has stood out in a crowded Class 4A field. The junior has placed among the top 10 in West Central District III in several events including the 100-meter (seventh; 12.51 seconds) and as a member of both of Rogers’ 4x100 (fifth; 49.85) and 4x200 relay (fourth; 1:45.15).
But it’s her 4A and state-leading long jump mark that stands out most about Heath’s season, as the junior broke the Oregon Relay meet record on April 15 with a jump of 19 feet, 1 1/2 inches — nearly a foot more than the state’s No. 2, Kentridge’s Lauryn Ford, who jumped 18-4 1/2.
My goal this year was to jump 19 feet, but since it hasn’t been that long of a track season, I think be able to pursue (20 feet).
“When I was on the runway, I just felt super fast. (I thought) just jump as high as you can, like you’re swimming in the air,” Heath said. “After seeing 19 (feet) on the board, I was like, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ I was excited because I broke my own record (and) the school’s.”
So why has Heath been so successful this season, hitting a long jump mark nearly a foot better than she had as a sophomore (18-10) — her first season competing in the event?
She plays by her own rules.
“I’m like, ‘Can I borrow your legs?’” Whaley joked. “She eats all the junk food, and she comes out setting new (personal records) or meet records. I don’t know how she can do it, because if I ate the way she did, I’d be dead (tired) before we got out here.”
The jump Heath made at the Oregon Relays shattered Rogers’ school record, as she broke Nicole Jones’ previous record of 16-5, set in 2010.
With a month left before the state meet, there’s still plenty left for Heath to prove.
“Next year, I told the coaches to just have me unattached and jump with the college kids,” she said. “I told them that I wanted to experience it. I think if you go against the best, I think it improves your performance.”