Last season Jelani Heath almost had the long jump record in the bag.
With a light breeze at her back, the Rogers High jumper took one lean back before bolting toward the jumping pit on the east end of Mount Tahoma Stadium in the 4A girls long jump finals last May at the 4A state track and field championships.
At Star Track, all eyes were squarely on Heath, and with one motion, Heath lept and cut through the air like a knife, landing 19 feet, 11 1/2 inches — setting the new state track mark — if not for that 2-mile back wind “giving” Heath an advantage.
“I don’t worry about that now. I just want to go out and have the best senior season, and when I get back to state, I want to go 21 feet with my jumps,” Heath pointed out at a recent practice.
Later that the same day, Shorecrest senior Wurrie Njadoe set the 2016 season’s best long jump mark with a distance of 20-1/4, also wind aided.
No state record, but her jump crowned Heath the 4A long jump champion after taking the state title on a season where the now-senior took the state by storm.
Record or not, a new Jelani Heath was born that day.
“I feel like after winning the state title, I became more confident and kind of broke away from my shy self,” Heath admitted. “It gave me confidence in myself to just be me.”
The junk food queen of the high school long jump in the state has finally found herself after one season.
And from that one season, Heath was offered and committed to the University of North Carolina track and field program back in October and will sign her commitment during the final Signing Day period later this spring season.
“She’s definitely more comfortable coming into this season,” Rogers jump coach Baily Kapel said. “She’s not the shy girl from last year who would surprise people when she would make her jumps. Jelani is more focused this year to do whatever it takes to reach her goals.”
Those goals are simple.
Simple in the fact that when talking or listening to Heath, anyone could envision her accomplishment.
But there’s nothing simple about reaching 20 or even 21 feet in the long jump. Only Njadoe crossed that mark last season.
After jumping for the Junior Olympics team last summer and with a UNC commitment — with dreams of someday representing the United States in the Olympics, Heath has set herself up to make the rare sight of 20-plus feet a common occurrence for this Ram senior.
“You have to set those goals to keep pushing yourself. If I didn’t make a goal like that, then I wouldn’t get better,” Heath said. “I even cut back on my junk food and started eating healthier choices.”
Heath has almost eliminated all junk food from her diet and in its place are healthier choices like fruits, vegetables and yogurt to boost Heath’s energy each and every week as she prepares to cross her goal.
So far on the season it’s paying off as Heath leads the state with a mark of 18-10, set at the Kent-Meridian Invite this past weekend.
“It’s funny because I’m getting texts from Jelani showing me what she’s eating and its her choosing to eat yogurt,” Kapel said. “It’s different to see that change because it tells me she’s really focused this year.”
She’s also ready to make an encore like the state has never seen before.
Yet not everything has changed for Heath. Some old habits die hard.
“I still eat donuts,” Heath joked. “Not always before a meet like last year. I can never give up donuts — or Cinnabon. I can never give those two up.”