Rebels track and field:

UNLV junior at ease with leap into NCAA track championships

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UNLV junior Krystal Wharton completes a long jump during the Mountain West Outdoor Championships in Laramie, Wyo.

From the outside, it looks like Krystal Wharton is flying. How else to describe the path she takes from jumping board to a landing spot more than 20 feet away?

“I wish I could go back and relive the time in the air,” said the UNLV junior. “All I can remember is my start and all of a sudden I’m in the sand. I don’t remember what happened in the middle.”

What happened is that in one year, Wharton added distance to her long jumps that usually takes years to accomplish, and it has landed her in Eugene, Ore., as the Rebels’ lone competitor at the NCAA Outdoor Championships this week.

Wharton qualified with a personal record leap of 20 feet, 1.5 inches. That was good for 10th place at the West Preliminary meet and one of 24 spots at nationals. The women’s long jump begins with preliminaries today at 4:15 p.m.

The best Wharton had jumped coming into this season was 18-5. Good, sure, but nothing like this season, when she set at least five personal records in the event.

From years of running sprint events at Las Vegas Valley High and at UNLV, Wharton had some of the requisite skills. A good long jumper, after all, is nothing without the necessary speed before the leap.

“It’s like a plane,” she said. “It doesn’t just go straight up. First it goes really fast and then it takes off. Everything you do connects.”

Wharton tried the long jump a little in high school and also competed in the event, along with various sprints — including the 100 and 200 meters — her first two years at UNLV. Something clicked this season, though. Part of that credit goes to fourth-year assistant coach Enoch Borozinski, who helped her stop thinking about the technique — left foot, right foot, hit the board, get your legs up — and instead let it flow naturally.

There were personal changes, too. Wharton is now a vegetarian and has started doing yoga. She also meditates before every competition, focusing on removing the distractions and thinking only of the task at hand.

“I’m a really antsy person, and that’s one thing that has extremely helped me this year,” Wharton said.

If she had got her wish, Wharton never would have made it this far. She wouldn’t even be on the track and field team.

Coming out of high school, Wharton wanted to enroll in an art instate and pursue her passion of designing clothes or painting, really anything that allowed her to use her creative muscles. Financially, though, that wasn’t an option, but a track scholarship gave her an alternate route.

Now she’s using the opportunity to earn a business degree that Wharton hopes will help her manage the entrepreneurial side of being a professional artist. But that’s still the future.

The present is a “shocking” opportunity to compete against the best collegiate women in the country. Although in this sport, it’s often simpler to think of it as competing against yourself.

Wharton’s goal in Eugene is the same as every other city: Set a personal record. She’s aiming for 21 feet, a huge leap both figuratively and literally from her previous best.

And if she doesn’t fly that far? That’s fine. Wharton wasn’t supposed to make it to this point, at least not yet.

Walking around Tuesday at a Eugene park where she planned to pass the day sketching, Wharton sounds at peace. Almost weightless, as if she’s floating above the ground and just waiting to land in some sand.

“I’m not putting a bunch of pressure on myself,” she said. “It’s more calm right now because I’m so happy to be here.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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