Aug. 10, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The London Games end Sunday, but for Vanessa Jules, the Olympic dream lives on.
Jules owns 10 Marshall track and field records, eight of those set in the 2012 indoor and outdoor seasons. The senior from Silver Spring, Md., came to Marshall as a high jumper. She will leave next spring with a degree in psychology and as an impressive multi-event track star.
She will take with her a vibrant personality, her collection of basketball shoes and a notion that she will continue to run and jump toward the World Championships in Moscow next summer, and beyond.
“The Olympics are still in the back of my mind, definitely, but the Worlds are next year and right now, that’s my goal,” Jules said Friday. “That’s why I want to have a really good senior year here for Marshall, and then I see the Worlds in my future.
“My goal next summer is to turn pro. I really plan on getting after it this coming season.”
Jules could have probably competed in London. She has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Haiti, since her parents are natives of that island nation. The 2012 Haitian Olympic team numbers – four track athletes and a judo competitor.
The 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro are not out of the question. Jeff Small, Marshall’s head track and field coach, said if Jules continues to improve her numbers, she could be a U.S. Olympic competitor in four years.
“Competing for Haiti appeals to me,” Jules said. “I would want to compete for my parents’ country. I think it would make them proud. I could always go compete for the United States team, if I’m capable of doing so, but I really want to compete for Haiti.”
Although she arrived in the Thundering Herd program as strictly a jumper from Paint Branch High in Maryland, Jules now owns Marshall records in the 60-meter hurdles, 300, high jump and pentathlon (indoors); the 100 hurdles, high jump, heptathlon and as part of 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams (outdoors).
Marshall’s married assistant track and field coaches, Willie Johnson and Lacee Carmon-Johnson, are Jules’ coaches. “Coach Lacee” – as Jules calls her – tutors in the hurdles. Her husband coaches the high jump. The two share the coaching in Jules’ other events.
After Jules’ first season as a multi-event performer, Carmon-Johnson said Jules’ most surprising success has come “in the hurdles, I’d say, because she’s only done that for a short amount of time, but the 800 is something she didn’t want to do, and she fought it for so long. But she needed the 800 for the heptathlon.”
Jules: “The 800 hurt. It hurt my legs.”
Carmon-Johnson said she and her husband fooled Jules into working at the 400 hurdles as training for the 800.
“She came here to high jump,” said Johnson, a former graduate assistant who returned to MU as a full-time assistant coach after Jules had been recruited. “She embraced the multi’s (pentathlon and heptathlon), except the 800 and the hurdles.
“We allowed her to work out as a hurdler to train her for the 800. We kind of tricked her into it. She didn’t know she was training for the 800. She thought she was training for the 400 hurdles.”
How times have changed … not only does Jules run the 800, but she said, “I do love the hurdles. They don’t know that. I want to specialize, well, not really specialize, but I want to be great in the 400 hurdles, great in the 60 hurdles. I do love running. I don’t want to be classified as just a jumper.”
Jules said she started doing hurdles because she “liked the running part. I already was a competitor. I had never hurdled, but I don’t like to lose. As for form, I’m one of those people it really doesn’t take me long to pick it up. It’s sort of like, one time, I’ve got it.
“Coach Lacee had me go on YouTube and watch Sally Pearson – she just won gold in London in the 100 hurdles – and watch her. For a week straight, I watched her video, every day, every day, so it wouldn’t be hard, like it would be for somebody who doesn’t hurdle.”
Jules’ progression toward 10 Marshall school records started when she was a sophomore and she broke the high jump mark at 5-feet-7 (now her marks are 5-9 ¼ (indoors) and 5-10 (outdoors). That success honed her focus.
“That made me realize I could compete in the way I wanted,” Jules said. “I got the high jump record and I thought, ‘Good, I’ve got a collegiate record at Marshall.’ And then I wanted another, another, and another.
“So I started looking at the records, and I made a list on my little (grease) board in my room. I’d say I wanted to break the 60 record, or 300, one at a time. And when I’d go to the meet and get into the blocks, I’d think of that time, really concentrate on it.
“If I’d get the record, I’d go back to my board and wipe it off and concentrate on another. I look at that board every day. It’s right by my door, so there’s no choice but to look at it.”
Besides going to school and training for track and field, Jules works as a psych clinic in Huntington. She knows the road in track and field in the future – outside the Division I collegiate realm – will be difficult and require sponsorship as well as great time management between job and multiple hours of training daily.
Jules said she is ready for that … now.
“I’ve grown a lot, actually, since I’ve been here,” she said. “When I came in, I was immature, naive, stubborn. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, but it was more that I wasn’t disciplined enough to do it.
“Coach Johnson helped a lot. He told me what I needed to do. His discipline has made a big difference in me on the track, in the classroom, and as a person.
“He says, ‘If you’re on time, you’re late.’ I’m not that lazy, naive girl anymore. Mentally, I’ve grown up a lot. If it weren’t for Coach Johnson, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Well, Coach Johnson thinks he knows where Jules could be … at the mall, buying basketball shoes.
Jules played basketball in high school, but “she has a shoe fetish for basketball shoes,” Johnson said.
Jules admitted to having “maybe 30” pairs of hoops shoes. She said she has 30 pairs of running shoes “and about 50 spikes. I have my first pair. I think I’ve kept all of the spikes I’ve ever worn. I don’t know why. I just like to keep things that were important to me.”
That includes, she said, the first jersey she wore in competitive track, at Our Lady of Sorrows Middle School in Maryland. “We were supposed to return them,” Jules said.
She has a Penn Relays baton from her days at Paint Branch High, and another from the NIKE Indoor Nationals. Memories, she said, are made of these things.
Told her coaches called her a track “diva,” Jules laughed. Carmon-Johnson said Jules is “big into fashion, hair … and she’ll wear 5-inch heels even though she’s almost 6 feet tall.”
Johnson said that when Jules hits a hurdle and tumbles, it becomes an adventure.
“You know her, the last thing you’d think she’d want to do is run over a barrier,” Johnson said. “If Vanessa hits a hurdle, oh my gosh, it’s a 20-minute ordeal. Has to see the trainer, got to put a Band-Aid on it, and she limps around, but that’s just her, and we have fun with it.”
Jules, smiling: “I do that, but I don’t know why I do that.”
Maybe it’s because she’s good.
In the two Conference USA Championships this past season, Jules scored in eight of her nine events over two days (indoor) and 9 of 10 events over three days (outdoors).
Jules’ pre-pro, pre-Worlds goal for 2012-13 at Marshall dovetails with that of her coaches.
“Vanessa she’s come a long way, in maturity, academically, a long, long way,” Johnson said. “She was presented with some struggles early on just to become a part of the team and the biggest thing I’ve noticed about her is the maturity she has now. As a young kid, it was ‘I’m better than everybody else.’ Then there were trials and tribulations, and now she’s ready to step in and lead the team.
“That’s very, very important for us this coming season.”
Jules couldn’t agree more and uses a Conference USA Championships example.
“I’m a competitive person,” she said. “When I always see my team coming in second-to-last, last, third-last, and people ask, ‘So what place did you come in?’ like that … besides me competing and finishing third and being up on the podium looking at my team just sitting there, not getting anything …
“If anything, I really want us to place top three, top five. I want us to be recognized. I want (opponents) to be threatened, like ‘Uh, oh, Marshall’s coming.’ When we’re there, it’s been like, ‘OK, Marshall’s here.’
“There might be one, two people say, ‘Oh, Vanessa’s here.’ I want them to say, ‘Oh, Marshall is here. Better watch out for those girls.’”