Too Far to Go Back Now: The Blossoming Dreams of Athlete Jazmyn James
‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ is a saying so many of us use while we are going through hardships, or when we have actually made it through to the other side. This could not be more real for seventeen year old athlete, Jazmyn James, who survived two tragedies before she turned fifteen: a near-fatal car accident not long before beginning Grade 7 in a new school and the passing away of her mother a couple years later. Having lived in Negril when she was small, attending Sheffield All-Age School, Jazmyn moved to Springfield, where she lives with her younger brother, who is disabled, and her grandmother.
Jazmyn is currently training for ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boy and Girls Championships 2021, simply known as ‘Champs’, which starts on May 11, however, her calm, almost shy, mien could have fooled me when I caught up with her on the phone two days ago. She described her demeanour on the ‘field’ as aggressive, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe it. I would need to delve in further, so I did.
Athletics was not a childhood dream of Jazmyn’s and it was not until she was in her final year of primary school that she discovered her talent. “I ran the 100 metres one time in Grade 6 and came third, but I knew then that I could beat them because I was the last to move off the block. Also, my team won the 4 x 100 metres, so I knew I was fast. They (her school) wanted me to train for Champs (Prep) and I was supposed to go to a track meet to qualify, but I had GSAT (former Grade 6 exit exams) at the same time and I wanted to get into a good school.”
While she did go on to represent Savanna-la-mar High School in her first meet in Kingston, once again coming third in the 100 metres class 3, second in the 4 x100 metres class 1 and first in the 4 x 100 metres class 2, Jazmyn switched to throwing when she moved to Petersfield High School for 2nd Form (Grade 8). “I was still interested in running, but I have asthma,” she told me. “I was training and found out I liked to lift weights. One day we (she and her teammates) were training and it got really hard. “I sat down and one of my teammates said I should try throwing.” So she did. In her first camp, she threw 18 metres in discus and 7 metres in shot put. “They were not good throws. I even cried,” she admitted. “So, I trained harder.” Jazmyn did not gain a spot at Western Champs that year, but, “I asked to go and I watched people compete, so the following year I came back better and I competed in Form 3 (Grade 9) at Western Champs. I came second in discus class 3. My teammate came first.” Although Jazmyn had been training for shot put, she was still too young to compete in a meet for this discipline. The following year, in Form 4 (Grade 10), she began competing in shot put.
Jazmyn says that throwing gives her a more competitive spirit. “I can get very aggressive,” she insisted. “Running doesn’t get the aggression out, but throwing does. It really does,” she iterated. “You cannot be calm. You have to be aggressive to get what you want.” She learned this valuable tool from former teammates, when she noticed that their energetic aggression made them perform better. I think it takes much more than aggression to get where Jazmyn has gone and where she is sure to go in the future. After all, Jazmyn sat three CSEC subjects whilst in Form 4 and she is currently studying for a further five this year, in Form 5 (Grade 11), while winning the Triple Gold, in discus class 2 (39.92 metres), javelin open (28.78 metres) and shot put class 2 (14.70 metres), at Western Champs a few days ago.
In order to be successful in track and field, where the ultimate goal is to qualify for the Olympics and win a gold medal, I would think that one must have immense maturity. It is clear that Jazmyn James exudes this, as she explained in detail the intricacies of the technical discipline needed in throwing, especially if she wants to improve on her personal best in shot put – 15.67 metres, which she threw at school this season. Heading to Champs in less than two weeks, after her aforementioned Triple Gold, Jazmyn, who ranks second in class 2 shot put, disclosed to me, “I am hoping to throw 16 metres to break the record, which is 15.99 metres.” Of course, curiosity later had me looking it up on the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) website. Indeed, one must throw 16 metres to beat the class 2 shot put record of Immaculate Conception High School’s Danielle Sloley, thrown at Champs 2018. Discus is another matter, as Jazmyn finds it is harder to get the technique right, which is needed to throw the distance. “I like working on technique with discus, but as time progresses, you have to do what you are best at, as it’s all about winning,” she candidly commented, bringing me back from the naive notion that sports is just for fun!
Whatever happens, this soft-spoken athlete is quite confident that she is capable of toppling the girl who is currently ranked number one in class 2 shot put, provided she works on the height of her throw, which she says is too flat. “Her (the number one) throwing height has a higher releasing angle, but I am hoping to fix my releasing angle by Champs,” Jazmyn explained. I asked her how one goes about doing this, to which she answered, “The best way to work on that is to start from the basics. How you are standing and your reverse glide back is very important as it helps with speed and momentum with the throw.” Apparently, her 5 feet 3 inches stance puts her at a disadvantage. Tall people are naturally able to get more height in all their throws. Why stop there, I thought, I must ask her why throwers are almost always thick set and heavy. “We have to do weights every day so our strength level doesn’t go down,” she clarified. “I do weight training for two hours each day, then I throw for four hours, then at the end my coach will give me extra exercises like short sprints and push ups.”
Jazmyn, who stays with 11 other students Monday to Saturday in accommodation next to her school and the training ground, has not found the pandemic challenging. In fact, “I have been training harder because I don’t have formal school face to face, so there is more time to train. I get the school work done faster because I am not in physical classes,” she revealed. It’s not all academics and athletics for Jazmyn, as she does find a bit of time to listen to R & B music, play car games on her phone, and go home to Springfield, which is one hour away, on Saturday evenings, so that she can do laundry and rest on Sundays. However, “I would like to go to a hotel and relax,” she chuckled. After hearing her describe her workout regime, I would believe she deserves it!
I think it goes without saying, but I am going to write it anyway, that Jazmyn truly wants to make it to the Olympics. She is looking at the next five years or so, but in the meantime she plans to do P.E., Science and Geography in Sixth Form and would like to be recruited to a D1 college in the United States of America. When I asked Jazmyn, who likes adventure and the outdoors, where she sees herself in twenty years, she replied, “Well I am kind of waiting to see how my life plays out, but I would like to travel, and I see myself getting involved with Cornerstone Jamaica in the future in whatever way is needed.” Speaking of Cornerstone, CEO Gary Robinson informed me that Jazmyn is second generation Cornerstone Jamaica. She was little when her mother got involved with this nonprofit organisation. What else in on her so-called bucket list? “I would like to train with Ryan Crouser (Olympic Gold Medalist 2016 for Shot Put & Olympic Record Holder) from the USA, because he is an excellent athlete, with talent and an aggressive spirit.”
So, where does the self-proclaimed aggressive-drive of this country girl truly come from when athletes in the rural communities of Westmoreland, and the like, rarely get anyone to invest in them? “I think about making my mother proud and that drives me,” Jazmyn said. “I feel the reason that I have not given up is because of everything I have been through. I am too far to go back now.” She certainly is, and her athletic dreams are beginning to blossom.