Diamond Pace has two Class A 300-meter hurdle state titles and a triple jump title on her resume, so she knows what she’s doing on the track.
But the Danville track star was anxious to learn as much as she could from Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee at the Maximum Velocity Track and Field Academy at Centre College.
“It’s been really good.¿I like it a lot. I did it last year (in Harrodsburg), but this year I think it’s a little more individual and hands-on,”¿said Pace, who is coming off a Class A 300 hurdle title two weeks ago, Monday. “Having the actual time to work on it here is really good.”
Having former Olympic gold medal winner Joyner-Kersee telling her what she is doing right, doing wrong and offering tips on workouts and drills is a tremendous opportunity for Pace.
“She’s so great. She’s so much better than I’ve ever worked with. Anything she says, I definitely take it to heart,”¿Pace said. “She’s encouraging. She’s tough, but not discouraging.”
She’s already learned things she’s never thought of before.
“Keeping my stride open, I haven’t really heard that,”¿Pace said. “And staying tall. I always think how you’re supposed to stay low, but she says stay tall so you don’t hit the hurdles. Just a few pointers.”
The lessons learned just in the first session Monday was enough to make Mercer County’s Taylor Lowe change the way she high jumps.
“I have learned so much already. My approach has already changed. It’s incredible,”¿said Lowe, who was working with Olympian Jamie Nieto. “I wish I had three more years. I only have one year left (at Mercer) and I wish I could have done this as a freshman. It’s amazing the drills I’ve learned in just three hours.
“We just got to our approaches after doing a whole bunch of drills, and it’s already changed a whole bunch.”
Boyle County’s Natalie Settle was working with Olympic bronze medalist hurdler Bershawn Jackson.
She agreed with Lowe and Pace that she has already learned things she had never thought of that will carry over to next season.
“It’s been amazing. Just getting high fives from them and learning exactly what to do, what not to do. It’s a great experience,”¿Settle said. “Learning different drills, how to work different muscles, and I found different ways to work my arms and keep them in. I really want to get improve my times and be ready for my senior year.”
Of course, just getting to meet the Olympians was a thrill for Settle.
“I was familiar with Jackie and (sprinter) Tyson¿Gay, but the new one was our hurdle instructor. His nickname is Batman,”¿Settle said of Jackson. “I’m excited about (taking) the pictures with them, and seeing them instruct us is a great way to learn.”
Mercer’s Allexis Hendren, a hurdler and long and triple jumper, was excited to meet Joyner-Kersee.
“My idol has been Jackie Joyner-Kersee, so it’s been a great experience to meet her and see the kinds of things she used to do and that worked for her in the hurdles,”¿she said. “I want to improve my time in the hurdles and work on relays so my hand-offs can get better.”
The learning wasn’t limited to the athletes, either.
Boyle coach Brent Wagner was one of a handful of coaches here watching not only his athletes, but also how they were being taught.
“I am 100 percent glad our kids are here, but I am here to learn. I’ll let (the instructors) teach them. I’m not going to tell them something that they don’t already know,”¿he said. “What piece of wisdom can I give that Jackie Joyner-Kersee doesn’t know?”
Wagner was walking around with a notebook, jotting down any bit of information he could. He’s hoping that will pay off for him next track season as much as these lessons will for his athletes. Wagner was hoping he could gleam just a little bit out of the instructor’s knowledge.
“ I¿think it’s technical stuff. Obviously, these people know a lot more than I do,”¿he said. “Obviously you have to have ability. But to get a jumper an extra 6 inches, I can motivate them, but just the absolute technical aspects, I’m trying to learn. Different drills and things to do in the offseason. If a high jumper is hitting the bar with his heels, right now before this camp I don’t now how to correct that. I’m hoping here, they’ll tell me.”
All the athletes were thrilled with what they’d learned, but Pace had one complaint about the camp.
“I wish it was next year before the season,”¿she said, “so it could be closer to the season and I could use it.”