Lakewood’s Saudia James-Heard keeps improving by leaps and bounds

When Lakewood’s Saudia James-Heard says she likes a good challenge, she means it.

At the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics in Houston in late July, the 13-year-old broke the girls’ triple jump record with a jump of 38 feet, 8 3/4 inches to win the national title. The previous record was 38-4, set in 2006.

She also competed in the 400-meters – her favorite event — and the long jump, placing fourth and third, respectively.

She’s ranked as the nation’s top triple jumper at her age in her first year competing in the event.

“I was honestly surprised she broke the record,” said Nate Wilford, who coaches her club team, the Flying AJs . “I knew she had it in her, but taking into consideration that she was also prepared to run (the) 400. You’re running against the best girls in the country and you’re competing against them day after day.

“She was an All-American in three events over the course of five days of competition. That’s extremely hard to do.”

James-Heard, who works out year-round with Wilford and the Flying AJs, has been committed to the sport ever since she began six years ago. When her regular workout schedule begins around mid-September, she’ll practice up to six times a week for two hours at a time.

“I do school first, most definitely,” James-Heard said. “Then I go to track. I’ll come home, do my school work, get dressed and then go to track and then after track, I’ll eat and then go back to my school work.”

Wilford, who was a Division II All-American triple jumper and long jumper at Cal-State Bakersfield, has coached track and field for overmore than 40 years. Wilford was forthcoming in his appreciation of James-Heard's approach to the sport at such an early age.

“She’s an extremely dedicated and highly responsive track athlete," Wilford said. "She picks up on technique and she’s willing to work super hard. She’s probably the hardest working person on my team, consistently. That’s probably the biggest reason for all of her early success.

You could say maybe one out of every 5,000 kids is that focused. It’s pretty special. You don’t get a lot of people like that.”

Wilford has similar expectations for James-Heard this upcoming season.

“She’s more than likely going to be the best triple jumper, definitely for her age group, in the country,” Wilford said. “I can’t see why she wouldn’t be one of the top triple jumpers ever. She is very, very talented.”

James-Heard has the attitude to back up her skill. Pit her against Olympic 4x400 meter relay champion Sanya Richards-Ross, whom she’s met twice in person, and she won’t back down.

“I know for a fact I would lose, but I would keep an open mind,” James-Heard said. “I’d try to stick with her.”

James-Heard joined Richards-Ross in the Junior Olympic track record book with her winning jump. Richards-Ross set the 100-meter record in 1999.

James-Heard hasn’t chosen which high school she will attend this fall. She’s considering nearby Curtis and Lakes.

“She’s a track phenom. They’re champing at the bit to get her,” said her father, Michael Heard. “The academics is first, though, because track will always be there.

“Math is her speciality.”

Asked what she likes about math, James-Heard’s answer isn’t surprising.

“It’s challenging,” James-Heard said. “I like a challenge.”

Her reasoning for her dedication to track and field isn’t a shocker, either. But for an athlete of her caliber, considering the number of hours she has already put in — and will continue putting in — it’s good to know her love for the sport is still strong.

“I love track. I eat, drink, breathe, live track. It’s a lifestyle,” James-Heard said.