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Schaafsma ready to reach for the Stars

Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2002

This spring's slow melt is making it tough on those that would like to be running fast.

"This year has been especially difficult. It's taken so long to get out on the track," said Soldotna High School senior Janna Schaafsma. "It's hard to get stuff done when it's this cold out. There's a lot of stuff I want to accomplish this year. Since I've been weight lifting for the whole winter, I'm anxious to get out and see how much I've improved."

Schaafsma certainly has accomplished a lot already. She's the two-time defending state champion in the 100-meter hurdles, running a personal-best time of 15.03 seconds, less than a tenth of a second off the state record, to win the championship last season.

Schaafsma added the 300 hurdles to her repertoire last season, and took the state title in that race as well, cruising to a win in 45.11 seconds -- just .18 seconds away from another state record.

Soldotna High School track and field coach Mark Devenney called Schaafsma's effort at the state championships the best hurdling performance ever at a state meet, but Schaafsma has set even higher goals for herself this season.

"My ultimate goal is the break the state record in the 100 and 300 hurdles," Schaafsma said. "I was really, really close last year. I'm hoping this is my year -- it's my last chance."

Devenney said that two state records is a realistic goal for Schaafsma, but that wouldn't be the measuring stick he'd use to evaluate her high school career.

"That's not what we base everything on. The object is to preform the best you can, and if you happen to break some records along the way, that's fine," Devenney said.

Schaafsma has put in the work during the offseason, but she's made the progression toward her state championships look as smooth and as effortless as she glides over the hurdles.

"I started hurdling in seventh grade when I went out for track. I don't even remember why I started to hurdle," Schaafsma said. "I was pretty terrible in junior high."

Everything came together for Schaafsma toward then end of her eighth grade season, though. Schaafsma had been taking five steps in between hurdles, but with two meets to go in the season, decided to try four steps. Taking fewer steps dropped her time significantly, but taking four steps also requires hurdlers to alternate lead legs over each hurdle. At the borough meet a week later, Schaafsma dropped another step between hurdles, taking the same three steps she takes now.

"I was bounding between the hurdles, but I took a second off my time," Schaafsma said. "Hurdling with five steps was awkward. I was sprinting, but I'd have to cut my steps short. Four steps I didn't like because I'd have to go over the hurdle with my other leg."

From there, Schaafsma went on to win her first high school borough title as a freshman and finished second in the Region III championships that year.

Schaafsma's first state title came as a sophomore, when she won the 100 hurdles in 15.37 seconds, unseating the defending state champion in the process.

Schaafsma has made adjustments to her race during her high school career, something Devenney said shows her coachability as an athlete.

"When you tell her something, she has a pretty good sense of what to do," Devenney said. "Some kids, once they do something once, that's the way they're going to do it their entire career. Janna has made some drastic changes in her hurdling style, and that speaks well of her as an athlete."

Schaafsma also anchors the Stars' 400-meter relay, a squad that finished third at the state meet last year and second in her sophomore season.

Devenney said that while Schaafsma has made success look easy, she's earned everything she's attained.

"She's a really good kid," Devenney said. "She's worked pretty hard for everything she's got. A lot of people assume things come easy to kids like that."

Schaafsma said the one other event she'd like to try is the long jump, but she's been held out of the event to save some wear and tear on her knees. Schaafsma has a knee condition that can be very painful at times and requires physical therapy.

"Some days they feel great, some days they feel really bad. I take it one day at a time," Schaafsma said.

While all Schaafsma's accomplishments on the track are impressive, her track record in the classroom is equally awe-inspiring.

"As great an athlete as she is, I'd rank her as a better student," said Allan Howard, a math teacher and the athletic director at Soldotna High School. "She's got a chance to be a three-time champion, so that's saying quite a lot."

Schaafsma has maintained a 4.0 grade point average and is in line to graduate as her class valedictorian come May.

"I don't know if I really thought about being valedictorian as much as getting all A's and doing the best I can," Schaafsma said. "If I am valedictorian, there's a few extra dollars in it for me at Seattle Pacific."

Schaafsma has plans to attend Seattle Pacific University and major in premedicine next fall. She has received an athletic scholarship package to run track for the Falcons, and as a National Merit Scholar semifinalist, Schaafsma will be able to take advantage of some impressive academic scholarship money.

Schaafsma said that all of her classes have been interesting, but she's particularly enjoyed biology and anatomy courses.

"Right now, the plan is to study premedicine," Schaafsma said of her academic goals. "We'll see how the first couple of years go, and we'll see if I want to stick around for eight more years of school."

Schaafsma does have plenty of other academic and extracurricular activities to keep her busy. She is vice president of the National Honor Society at Soldotna, serves as class secretary and has been on the student council throughout her high school career. She also plays clarinet in the band, and tutors some fellow students in trigonometry -- Howard praised her for her patience and understanding in that role.

Schaafsma said she also tutors her younger brother Andy, an eighth grader, when he needs a little extra help.

In the meantime, Schaafsma will continue to work toward her goals on the track. Schaafsma said that hitting the weights all winter has definitely made her stronger, and she's curious to see just how that will play out in competition.

"It did help a lot with my speed," Schaafsma said of her running after weight training for the first time a couple of seasons ago. "I was a faster sprinter, and it made me a better hurdler. The stronger you are, the easier it makes it to run fast."



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