Best way to prepare for the Olympics? Train with teenagers

University Place's Andrea Geubelle trains locally for Rio Olympics

University Place’s Andrea Geubelle, a member of the USA Women’s Track & Field team headed to Rio, is in a good place after returning to her original Flying AJ’s club program.
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University Place’s Andrea Geubelle, a member of the USA Women’s Track & Field team headed to Rio, is in a good place after returning to her original Flying AJ’s club program.

Lost somewhere in her University Place apartment is the most meaningful notebook of Andrea Geubelle’s life.

It is her scribbled personal track-and-field diary, full of notes from her days as a three-time NCAA Division I champion at the University of Kansas.

The diary contains her most important long-term goals in the triple jump. Last month, Geubelle checked a lofty one off that list — making the USA Women’s Track & Field team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

At the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, Geubelle jumped 45 feet, 9 1/4 inches on her second-to-last attempt in the finals to grab the third and final qualifying spot for the Olympics in Brazil — behind winner Keturah Orji (46-11 3/4) and runner-up Christina Epps (46-6).

Because the 25-year-old Geubelle had met the IAAF qualifying standard (46-5 1/4) at a meet she won earlier in the summer, all she needed to do was finish in the top three at the trials in Eugene.

“It’s been a long road for her,” said Wayne Pate, the jumps coach at Kansas. “She missed (making the U.S. Olympics team) by one centimeter in 2012. But Andrea is so competitive that I knew she eventually was going to get in.”

To recap Geubelle’s stellar amateur career, she was a three-time national champion while at Curtis High School. She won seven WIAA state titles, six coming in the long jump and triple jump. And she graduated from Curtis in 2009 with the all-time prep triple jump mark of 42-10 1/4 (which since has been broken by Mountlake Terrace’s Chinne Okoronkwo at 42-11 3/4).

Geubelle won her first two national college titles at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships, then helped the Jayhawks to the team championship later that year at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene.

A few weeks later, Geubelle captured the women’s triple jump title at the 2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

But a lingering knee injury, which was later diagnosed as patellar tendonitis, or “jumper’s knee” began taking its toll — to the extent that Geubelle thought about giving up the sport.

“After KU, she had some strength issues,” said Nate Wilford, Geubelle’s club coach at the Flying AJ’s in University Place. “She was thinking about hanging it up. We talked about ... just letting this heal up and see what we can get out of (her professional career).”

By 2015, Geubelle had been a professional for two years and she decided to move home to University Place.

“Turning pro was the hardest transition for me,” Geubelle said. “I went from Curtis to a college where KU ended up winning the NCAA title, so I wore the KU uniform proud. But when you go pro, you lose some of that (team-oriented) identity. That was extremely hard for me. I like to be able to contribute to something, or be a part of something greater.”

So, Geubelle went back to where it all started — the Flying AJ’s.

Wilford, a former California State University-Bakersfield track jumper, returned to Washington in 2001 with serious health issues. He wanted to be close to family members. He had been living in California, where he suffered a stroke, and was told he had a short time to live with colon cancer.

Thing is, Wilford survived all that — and eventually started assisting with the Flying AJ’s in 2003.

Today, the 62-year-old is the club’s director, coaching 30 to 35 of the best horizontal jumpers in the state — in junior high, high school and college — four days a week at Charles Wright Academy.

Geubelle follows Wilford’s highly technical workout programs to a T.

“She listens — in her own way,” Wilford said. “She translates my ‘Nathan-ese’ into ‘Andrea language.’ 

Since she’s been back, Geubelle’s club workout partner has been recent Tumwater High School graduate Peyton Russell, who is headed to the University of Miami on a track scholarship. Russell won her third consecutive Class 2A triple jump state title in May.

“I’ve known about her obviously, because she’s been the best athlete to come through the Flying AJs,” Russell said. “I was a little bit intimidated to meet her, but she was so humble and down to earth.

“She comes to practice as much as the rest of us, and does the same workouts. If I were in her position, I’d still want to be with a team like that. She’s with training partners and friends, which is a good atmosphere to be in.”

Geubelle knows as the lone professional in the club she serves as a mentor to the younger athletes.

“We’ve had lunch. We’ve had coffee. I’ve hung out with them at chiropractic appointments,” Geubelle said. “I have become a sister to all of them.”

Oddly enough, being back with her original club is the perfect tonic for Geubelle to grow her professional career.

“I am not training with professionals, and it does not seem ideal,” Geubelle said. “But these kids have ... undeniable love for the sport, which was missing when I turned pro.

“I have broken down at practice and shown raw emotion to them. And they look at me ... and say, ‘Andrea, you’ve got this.’ It’s been a blessing in disguise.”

Over the past year, Geubelle hasn’t just been training for the Olympics. She’s been a substitute teacher for Tacoma Public Schools. She coaches youth soccer in University Place, and volleyball at South Sound Volleyball Club. And because she someday wants to be a nurse, she volunteers at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

But now, it is all about the Olympics, and a troop of family members — including her father, Jeff Geubelle; her mother and stepfather, Dawn and Mike Decius; and younger brother, Dillon — will be making the trip to Rio, as will Wilford.

“Somewhere in that notebook, I wrote that my biggest goal was to (get on the podium with a top-three finish) at the Olympics,” Andrea Guebelle said. “If it happens, great, I will check it off. If it doesn’t, then we will go another four years.”