Doubt drives Fulton's Kohrt

Carie Kuehn/Clinton HeraldKearra Kohrt poses by the Fulton High School long jump pit on Monday before practice. Kohrt qualified in the long jump for the Illinois High School State Track & Field meet, and is looking for a season-best leap come Thursday.

FULTON — Fulton junior Kearra Kohrt doesn’t have an intimidating appearance. Maybe that’s why not everyone has always believed in her as a long jumper.

That doesn’t get in her way. She’s on her way to her second consecutive state appearance in the event.

“People ask what I went to state for sometimes when they see my shirts, and when I tell them long jump they say I don’t look like a long jumper,” Kohrt said.

It’s always been that way. Since the moment she tried out for the team, she’s heard doubts.

“I was actually told when I tried out for long jump in sixth grade by someone helping out with the pit, they said ‘You’re never going to be able to do long jump. You suck at long jump’,” Kohrt recalls. “They said ‘You’re never going to go anywhere with it, you should quit’. That made me more determined to do it.”

Kohrt holds the Fulton High School record for the field event, jumping 17-01.75 and making her first state appearance last year.

Still, this year has been a story of it’s own. Between the bad weather hindering outdoor practice and jumps that weren’t quite making the mark, she was nervous going into sectionals. A late season injury didn’t help it, either.

“I was doing a run through before conference in the pit and there was a hole in the sand and I stepped in it just right,” Kohrt said. “I have previously broken and sprained this ankle so it swelled up. That made me even more nervous.”

So when she got to sectionals she felt some pressure. Her first jump was 16-04. The qualifying standard was 16-02.

“I felt overjoyed. This year has been rough,” she said. “I felt a bunch of weight was lifted off my shoulders. All this pressure was gone and I could just relax.”

Despite the nerves and the season, she was confident in her own abilities.

“I just had to tell myself that I can do this,” Kohrt said. “I knew I jumped over 17 feet at state last year so I’m qualified and I am capable of doing it. That is my mental game, I have to get myself in the right mental state.”

Even with the motivation, she couldn’t have guessed that she would make it this far as a jumper.

“Honestly, I had no idea,” Kohrt said. “My freshman year I didn’t even make it to state so I didn’t think long jump was going to be my thing. Qualifying for state was 16-02 and and I was like dang, I’ll never be able to do that.”

The nerves aren’t quite like they were the first time she qualified. It helps that she’s bringing along Julia Lehman, another long jumper. Lehman said she will be looking to Kohrt for guidance, but Kohrt knows both athletes will benefit from having a teammate at the pit.

“Finally I have someone coming with me for long jump,” Kohrt said. “I feel like it’s going to be a lot of fun and we can help each other.

“That definitely takes some pressure off. Coach has to attend to other events too, so it was always a little nevewracking when he would leave. Now, I have someone doing the same event as me and it will lift a lot of pressure.”

Kohrt is ranked 26th with her qualifying jump, but hopes she can go out at O’Brien Stadium and jump another personal best like she did the previous year.

“I want to break my own school record this year,” Kohrt said. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to.”

“I love the feeling of being up in the air and the hitting the sand and you just know. You know it’s a good jump. You get up and know you’ll have a good mark.”

And even if she doesn’t look like a long jumper, she knows she’s one of the best. She’s proved it year after year.

“I’m really motivated and I always put in all the effort I can,” Kohrt said. “I know I’m small and short, but you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Kohrt will jump on Thursday morning in Charleston, Ill. If she advances to the finals, she will jump again on Saturday.