Winter track club helps Fruita's Hunt, GJ's Jackson succeed in jumping events
Whitney Jackson and Niki Hunt are headed to state with high hopes.
The two seniors’ quest for winning Class 5A state track and field medals started long ago. But this season, the work put in during the winter has led to big results this spring for the pair.
Both were involved with Sean Mulvey’s Grand Valley Thunderbird Winter Track Club.
Jackson, from Grand Junction High School, said the club prepared her for the season and has her peaking at the right time.
“When you get to the end of the high school season, you feel like you should have a few more meets, so (the club) gives you a good head start,” she said.
Jackson had a stellar performance at the Southwestern League Championships over the weekend, winning the long jump and the triple jump. On Saturday, she soared to a personal best in the triple jump at 36 feet, 5.75 inches. That mark has her ranked sixth in the state, and she is ranked ninth in the long jump.
Hunt, who attends Fruita Monument, placed second in the triple jump and third in the long jump. She will be competing at state in the triple jump and has the seventh best mark this season, a couple of inches behind Jackson.
Speaking before Saturday’s long jump finals, Hunt said the club was a tremendous help.
“(The season) has gone really, really well. I’ve improved immensely. Winter track really helped,” she said.
Mulvey, who is the head football coach at Fruita Monument, also coaches the jumpers at the school. He may be a Fruita Monument coach, but he also coaches Jackson during the track season.
“It’s a unique situation, but it’s all about the kids,” he said. “We just want them to succeed, and anything we can do to achieve that is all that matters.”
Mulvey said he approached the Grand Junction coaches with the idea, and they had no problem with the arrangement. The coaches are careful not to overtrain the athletes and are always communicating with one another.
Mulvey said he was approached by Jackson and her mom, Kelly, to help with training during the winter months. That’s where the track club got started. He said he had about eight athletes this past winter, mostly jumpers.
For Hunt, this is just her second year on the track team.
“I was kind of bored sitting at home doing nothing,” she said with a laugh. “I have so much energy that I needed to find something to do.”
She smiles when she talks about her athletic limitations.
“I needed to find something that didn’t involve eye-hand coordination, and track sounded good,” Hunt said.
So, she jumped into track. Before track, Hunt’s boundless energy focused on gymnastics.
Mulvey said gymnasts make great track athletes, adding, “Kids that do gymnastics are really disciplined and very hard workers, and that’s what Niki is.”
The personal connection between Jackson and Hunt goes back much further than working together in winter track.
“We’ve been friends since fourth grade,” Hunt said.
The two drifted apart when Jackson switched to Grand Junction, but they’ve reconnected now that they both compete in track.
“We’re both the same,” Jackson said. “We can be competitive, really competitive but not be mean to each other. Then a little later, we’re friends again.”
Hunt agrees wholeheartedly.
“It’s cool because we both push each other really hard,” she said. “Both of us are like, ‘I want to beat you, but I want you to do really good, too.’ “
The two have been two of the best jumpers on the Western Slope all season, and both will contend for state medals.
During competition, it’s easy to see the determined focus of each. The time for friendship is put on hold as all the energy and drive is wound tightly into one goal — victory.
Then afterwards, when the final jump is over, they are no long competitors.
“It’s nice to have competition but still have a friend,” Jackson said.
The 5A girls long jump is scheduled for Thursday and the triple jump Saturday in Lakewood.