David Njeri didn’t try track and field until three years ago when he first entered the halls of Wilson High School.
But racing is nothing new. He’d frequently outrun his friends to school living in a suburb of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, before moving with his mom to Tacoma entering the eighth grade.
“We would run a lot,” Njeri said. “That’s probably why I’m fast because I used to race kids in the village.
“We’d get up at 5:30 in the morning, be ready by 6:30 and go like three miles to school. … It was pretty cool.”
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And with help from a U.S. Olympian, he’s learned to jump, too.
Njeri took first place in the 110-meter hurdles (15.31 seconds), the 300-meter hurdles (39.82) and the triple jump (42 feet) on Saturday at the Bill Harris Invitational at Federal Way High School, and helped the Wilson boys track and field team take first place with 87.33 points, well ahead of second-place Kentwood (74).
The Federal Way girls team took first place with 127 points, beating second-place Emerald Ridge (95).
Njeri placed seventh in the 3A state championships at Mount Tahoma last spring, but this year — so far — he has the fifth-fastest 110 hurdles time in 3A (14.96 seconds) and the third-fastest 300 hurdles time (39.52).
But this is the first year he’s tried the triple jump, after pleading with first-year Wilson jumps coach Andrea Geubelle, who competed for the United States in the triple jump at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Geubelle graduated from Curtis — and still holds the state girls outdoor record in the triple jump (42 feet, 10 1/4 inches) — before winning three NCAA indoor championships for the University of Kansas.
Now she’s helping out longtime Wilson coach Sam Ring and is the youngest member of his staff — all while she continues to train and contemplate competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
And the first thing on her to do list is to make sure these Wilson athletes know what the triple jump even is.
“It grows the sport,” Geubelle said. “Curtis is a great jumps school, but a lot of these kids (at Wilson) have never even heard of the triple jump before. If I can grow the sport in any way I can, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Njeri has remarkably gone from a 32-9 triple jump in his first meet to 41-1 earlier this week, to winning the title at the Bill Harris Invitational on Saturday at 42 feet.
“He came to practice one day and was like, ‘Coach, can I do this?’ ” Geubelle said. “But then he jumps and I’m like, ‘Oh gosh.’ Because he jumped like he was a hurdler.
“But he kept going back and taking things I said and going at it again. And I was like, ‘Yep, this kid is a jumper.’ ”
He reminds Geubelle of herself, having to rely on speed and explosion over length and strength.
“He’s improved about a foot every meet,” Geubelle said. “He’s super coachable and he works hard. That’s all you can really ask for is somebody who is committed and willing to listen and shows up to practice every day and works hard and he does that.”
Speaking of speed …
Curtis’ Izaiah Fields earned the top male performer of the meet, winning the 100 meters in 10.82 seconds and the 200 meters in 21.82 seconds, which was a new school record previously set by Sam Gage in 1995 (21.89).
Fields broke former UW wide receiver Terry Tharps’ school record in the 100 meters earlier this year.
“I worked hard for it and I trained more than I did in past years,” Fields said. “It felt really good.
“My next goal is to win state for 100 and 200 and break my old records.”
He placed second in the 200 at state last year, but this was only the fourth time he’s run the event this year (compared to the 11 times he’s ran the 100).
“My coaches made me,” Fields said. “I didn’t really feel good, but every time I don’t feel good I seem to do better.”
He might have been able to leave Federal Way with three titles, but he and Payden Montgomery dropped their baton on the exchange before the final straightaway in the 4x100 relay.
Emerald Ridge’s Audrey Fernandez earned the top girls performer with her victories in the 100 (12.35) and 200 (25.58).
Her teammate, Karlee Stueckle entered with the state’s best time in the 300 hurdles, but didn’t compete in the event because she competed in in a club soccer championship game with Rainier Soccer Alliance. She showed up at Federal Way with a large gash on her leg from a turf burn.
So, instead, her coaches had Stueckle compete in the 800 meters for the first time ever. She took first place with a time of 2:25.92.
“It’s fun to try something new, and I don’t like to lose,” Stueckle said.
She said she plans on competing in the heptathlon after the state championships.
Lincoln’s Brandin Porter won the shot put with a throw of 50 feet, 8 3/4 inches and the discus at 157-02. Teammate Mykel Campbell won the high jump with a leap of 6 feet.
Federal Way’s girls relay team of Veronica Black, Kemi Akinlosotu, Kayley Cruz and Makiya Worthy won both the 4x100 relay and the 4x200 relay.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677