Feb. 9, 2016
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- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, July 29, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2015-16 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Jahisha Thomas’s world changed while driving to a track and field work out on what had been a mundane Wednesday in her hometown of London.
Thomas answered a call to her cell phone and on the other end was University of Iowa associate head coach Clive Roberts. The Hawkeye staff knew of Thomas because of London native Babatunde Amosu, a UI All-American and three-time Big Ten Conference champion in the triple jump.
“I was trying to dodge traffic and I didn’t know where Iowa was, I had never heard of it,” Thomas said. “We started conversing and I looked up the university. It was everything I wanted.”
Thomas is in her sophomore year at the University of Iowa. She says coming to the United States to study microbiology and run track and field for the Hawkeyes is one of the two greatest choices she ever made.
“It is amazing. The best decisions I’ve made in life were getting my hair done (in dreadlocks) and coming to America,” Thomas said. “The first thing I noticed was the atmosphere at the track. Everyone is cheering each other on. That makes you want to do well and it’s fantastic.”
The dreadlocked Hawkeye placed sixth in the long jump at the 2015 Big Ten Indoor Championships. Her mark of 19-feet-7 was third all-time at the UI; she also turned in the team’s top performance in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.60 seconds.
During the outdoor season, Thomas placed 13th in long jump at the NCAA West Preliminary (20-3), the fourth-best effort in UI history. She ran 13.80 in the 100 hurdles, the sixth-best performance for a Hawkeye.
“She had a good season last year,” said Joey Woody, UI director of track and field. “She didn’t have any big personal bests, but she was able to compete at a high level. We had a transition with her training this year and I think it is starting to take off, especially in the hurdles.”
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Thomas, who is working her way back from a quadriceps injury sustained three days before the indoor season began. As a freshman she was limited by a hamstring injury. Thomas had the fastest qualifying time in the 60 hurdles (8.67) at the Iowa Duals on Jan. 16 in the UI Recreation Building, but did not start the final.
She is understandably guarded about returning to action before her injury is completely healed. Last season she went through a three-week cycle where she was healthy, then re-aggravated her hamstring.
“That is a question I ask myself every day leading up to competition and that’s going to be in the back of my mind when I’m warming up, when I’m running: Is it ready?” Thomas said. “It takes one race and I’m back down again and then I’m out for a week. It is communicating and being smart about things. If I have to take that one more week, it’s a sacrifice I’m going to have to make.”
“It is amazing. The best decisions I’ve made in life were getting my hair done (in dreadlocks) and coming to America. The first thing I noticed was the atmosphere at the track. Everyone is cheering each other on. That makes you want to do well and it’s fantastic.”
The definitive indoor goal for Thomas and the Hawkeyes is Feb. 26-27 at the Big Ten Championships and March 11-12 at the NCAA Championships.
“I want to make NCAA indoors,” Thomas said. “I want to make outdoors, too, but indoors you have to be top 16 and that’s it. That is a goal for me, because I know I can do it. Now it’s just translating and actually doing it.
“At Big Tens, I want to be top three and actually do the hurdles — last year I wasn’t able to do it (because of the sore hamstring). That is an immediate goal.”
Woody likes the energy Thomas brings to practice each day. To her, track and field practice and competitions are her social life. Because of academic and athletic commitments, Thomas is more likely found studying than the mall.
“It is a bit. You either learn how to cope or that’s it — both of them will suffer,” Thomas said of balancing studies and sport. “You have to learn to adapt and adapt quickly. It is balancing the two and it doesn’t leave a lot for an outside life. I spent most of my time last semester in the library, but that is what needed to be done.”
Lunch, dinner, and movie dates might suffer, but Thomas has a strong support system on the Hawkeye roster.
“Thankfully, most of my best friends are on the track team,” said Thomas, who would like to become a dentist. “It’s one of those things where they know what is going on; we’re all in the same boat. We all go to the (Gerdin Athletic Learning Center) together and that’s bonding right there — working together. Our schedules are kind of same, so that’s kind of a social life.”
After posting two personal bests at the Razorback Invitational from Jan. 29-30 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Thomas continued her impressive indoor season by placing second in the long jump at the Meyo Invitational on Feb. 5 in South Bend, Indiana. Thomas jumped 20-feet-4 ½, breaking the UI indoor record set by Zinnia Miller (20-4 ¼) in 2014.
She also ran to a career-best time of 8.51 in the 60 hurdles to qualify for semifinals in the 11th position (sixth-best in UI history). Her time of 8.62 on Feb. 6 in the semifinals placed ninth.
“She has really taken off and I’m excited to see how the rest of the season transpires,” Woody said.