Rogers High senior Jelani Heath is not only the top long jumper in the state, she's also one of the best in the country.
"She is one of those talents that comes around like once ever, that your coaching someone that is tops in the nation and could go to the Olympics, that doesn't happen often, especially in Puyallup,” said Rogers jump coach Bailey Kapels.
As a junior Heath won the Class 4A state title when she leaped 19 feet 11 1/2 inches. This past summer Heath jumped over 20 feet and won gold at the junior Olympics.
"I have to get in a zone, because everyone is cheering and talking and I have to go into a zen place, and then as I'm sprinting towards the pit and I jump. It's like taking off on a plane and just sitting there and coasting for however long you are in the air," said Heath.
Heath has earned a full ride scholarship to the University of North Carolina and currently has a 3.5 GPA. Away from school, she trains with club coach Nate Wilford, who also coaches Olympic triple jumper Andrea Guebelle. Both Guebelle and Heath are hoping to represent the USA in Tokyo in 2020.
She works hard, trains six days a week, but it's Heath's mom Apple, who inspired her daughter's drive.
"My mom battled through stage 4 breast cancer in 2008 when I was 10," Heath said. "She was given a 10 percent chance to live. But nine years later she is still here, kicking hard, and I love it. If she can kick stage 4 breast cancer, I can kick anything else."
Her mother's survival has inspired Heath on the track. It also helped her appreciate life.
"She has such a light hearted take on things," said Rogers track coach Danny Carlson. "I think that sets her apart. She doesn't take herself too seriously, not that she doesn't know she is good, but it's not live and die, it's I'm going to have fun. She is always smiling."
She has lots of fun, she's fast, and explosive, but there is one more secret to Heath's success. It's a sprinkled donut.
"I love the sugar rush, I love to eat donuts. I normally eat four," Heath said.
"I had a coach that took donuts away from kids and threw them away for heaven sake and here she's eating them before she's going to jump and I'm thinking oh geez," said Carlson.
But for the sweet-toothed Heath, the donuts haven't slowed her down. She ate two chocolate sprinkles before winning state and a glazed before striking gold.
"For her, I don’t know what it is about her, that's part of her personality," said Rogers track coach Ken Zentz. "Maybe she is sprinkled in life. That’s kind of how she is."
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