Now she’s the one they cheer

Athletes often start preparing for their sports career from the time they can pick up a ball.

Senior Rachelle Jensen placed fourth at the April 19 South Kitsap Invitational in the triple jump.

Senior Rachelle Jensen placed fourth at the April 19 South Kitsap Invitational in the triple jump.

SK senior puts down her

pom-poms long enough to make a splash with the

track and field team.

Athletes often start preparing for their sports career from the time they can pick up a ball.

That’s what makes South Kitsap senior Rachelle Jensen an anomaly. Just a year ago, Jensen’s only involvement with sports was cheering for them during football and basketball seasons.

But coaches from multiple sports, including D.J. Sigurdson (football), Chad Nass (wrestling) and Joanne Warren (track and field) approached the cheerleader with a simple question: “Why not try track?”

Without an activity for spring, Jensen was agreeable. The coaches made an assessment, there was a need for a triple jumper and at 5 foot 10, she seemed to be a fit.

“I was doing long jump and triple without really knowing what I was doing,” Jensen said.

Dave Olsen has returned to the program to coach jumpers this spring, but it was a different scenario a year ago for Jensen. Travis Thomas, who competed in the long and triple jump in addition to the 400-meter dash and 1,600 relay, took on a leadership role.

He worked on the fundamentals of the jumps, such as steps and strides, with Jensen and her development was nearly instantaneous.

“Most people it takes them a while how to get the steps into their head,” said Thomas, who attends Olympic College and hopes to walk on the track and field team at Washington State next season. “Rachelle got it very quickly. It showed when she had a jump at 34-4 and that was her (personal record) for the year.”

It sounds simple — and Jensen doesn’t dispute that.

“He just taught me in one day, and then the next day I did it,” she said. “That’s how I got into it.”

She became entrenched enough in the sport to cut back on her cheerleading schedule. Jensen was a cheerleader during football season, but decided to focus on conditioning for track in the winter.

“She has a ton of talent, and I wish I had gotten hold of her sooner,” Warren said. “She could be so much further along if we had her sooner.”

Working with teammates isn’t Jensen’s only passion. She enjoys her science courses at South and has volunteered at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Jensen recently landed a position at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, where she will work as a seasonal interpreter.

“I’ll be standing around by the aquarium dissecting squid and showing everyone the different parts,” she said.

Jensen said her interest in zoology stems from watching the 1989 Disney movie, “The Little Mermaid,” when she was young.

“I love the idea of being under the water and seeing all these beautiful, colorful fish and seeing all their corrals and habitats,” said Jensen, adding that she wants to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia some day. “It’s one of my goals before I die.”

Jensen hopes to study this fall at Converse College, a small liberal-arts school for women in South Carolina. If she can’t get enough financial aid to make the move, she probably will stay nearby at Olympic College.

Whether it’s science or track, South Carolina or Washington, Jensen will pursue her goals with conviction.

She notes that her grandmother, Doris Houk, has fallen down in her house, but gets “out of the hospital and better again.”

Jensen admits that she fell down multiple times when she started out with the jumps.

“If you fall down,” she said, “you get back up and try again.”

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