Float Like A Butterfly
The former Suffern High standout Jen Clayton said that she was stung by a bee at the NCAA Track and Field Championships here last week, and it made her mad.
Clayton had other motivations as well. The University of Central Florida junior was trying to re-establish her name as an elite long jumper three years after tying the New York state high school record and two years after winning an SEC title for LSU.
She noticed that she had been picked for eighth place, and one point, on the NCAA form chart. She wanted to give her team more than that.
“I was made for first place,” Clayton said. “So I went out there and attacked the board.”
Clayton jumped 21-0 3/4 (wind-aided) on her third of six attempts to earn third place and six points for the Knights.
“I wanted to show America that Jen Clayton is back and stronger than ever,” she said.
Consider, too, that third through sixth places were separated by an inch, so there was some good fortune involved as well.
Clayton was a regular at the Armory and one of the top high school jumpers in the country coming out of Suffern, and she went from there to LSU, one of the country’s top programs. But she said things “didn’t work out,” despite winning the SEC title. She failed to advance past the NCAA East preliminary round in 2011, and later that summer she transferred to UCF.
A couple of months into her sophomore year, she was crushed by the news that her half-brother, Lorenzo, had been killed in a house fire in Panama. Clayton’s teammates rallied around her, and she felt like she had found a supportive sisterhood at her new school.
“We have a small squad, but every single name on the roster means so much to the team,” Clayton said.
Her six points meant something, too. Together with teammates Octavious Freeman and Aurieyall Scott, the Knights finished fifth in the women’s team scoring with 35 points. It was the highest finish by a non-BCS school at these championships since 2000.
Next for Clayton is a trip to Cali, Colombia, July 5 to 7 for the Senior South American Championships, where she hopes to earn a spot on the Panamanian national team.
Clayton said competing for Panama, the native country of both her parents, is something she wants to do for her brother.
“It was his dying wish,” she said.
Clayton said the 2013 season has already been a success.
“I made progress,” she said. “Last year I was not on the scene at all. I had a rough patch and was at a new school. This year I’ve been consistently jumping 21 feet. It’s a big accomplishment being that consistent, being a strong long jumper.”
In one of her two appearances in the triple jump this spring, she finished third at the Conference USA Championships, in addition to second place in the long jump.
Next year, she hopes to add that event at the NCAA meet.
“You’ll see me more on the triple jump runway next year,” she said.