n From soccer to track, L-town grad Cooke still performing well at Towson" /> Who knew? -- SoMdNews.com



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“Who knew I would have fallen in love with track and field.”

Current Towson University senior and 2009 Leonardtown High School graduate Jessica Cooke sure did not think it was possible.

Using track and field during her freshman year at Leonardtown to simply stay in shape for soccer, her first sports love, she competed in the high jump.

Then came a track camp after her freshman year, then came her winning a regional championship in the long jump her senior year at Leonardtown and finishing seventh overall in the state championships in the triple jump, and now, she is a heptathlon athlete for Towson.

Who knew?

That track camp early in her high school career recorded Cooke’s statistics through various events, and that is when she first heard about her possibly being a good heptathlon athlete.

“I really didn’t understand what that really meant until my junior and senior year when I became, what I consider, a competitive athlete,” Cooke said.

The heptathlon is a two-day event consisting of seven track and field events, including the 200-meter sprint, 800 run, 100 hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and javelin throw.

During her junior season last spring, Cooke earned the bronze medal at the Colonial Athletic Association championships in the heptathlon and landed sixth on the school’s all-time list with 4,350 points.

But beyond the bronze medal, Cooke was more pleased with the fact that she earned the medal after having no prior experience in some of the events before college, including hurdles, javelin, shot put and distance running.

“That’s probably one of the things I am most proud about,” Cooke said of learning hurdles during her sophomore year, “because hurdles is very difficult.”

She admitted she threw a javelin one time in her life, during the track camp.

“That had been the first javelin I have ever seen, and I am pretty sure it was a guy’s javelin,” Cooke said. “It was a terrible throw.”

Despite just learning, however, she admits both the hurdles and javelin are among her three favorite events, also including the high jump.

But the road to success has not been an easy one for Cooke, whose collegiate athletic career got off to rocky start that landed the athlete in the hospital.

A case of mononucleosis during her freshman year sidelined the athlete to the point where she could not even run the eight steps to approach the high jump bar.

That episode also included Cooke losing 10 pounds in one week, a right lung collapse and pneumonia, according to her.

“I was probably weaker than when I was 10 years old,” Cooke said.

After the training for her season, Cooke admitted she was in the best physical condition of her life, but weeks riddled with mono erased that training to the point that the college athlete could not walk up a flight of steps without being fatigued.

But Cooke battled through the illness and won a silver medal in the high jump at the CAA outdoor championships only months after being hospitalized.

“I had such high hopes going into college, so that was really depressing,” Cooke said of the ordeal. “I didn’t have any high hopes for CAAs anymore, and I was completely surprised that I got that silver medal that year. It was really hard, but I really appreciate my athletic training staff. They really helped me get back into shape.”

Now, already sixth on the school’s all-time list for heptathlon points, Cooke would like to end her senior year and career inside the top five in an effort to leave her mark in an event she never could have imagined being in.

“I am really hoping to do that,” Cooke said of the top-five mark. “For me, it really is a statement that I have come this far. I’ve learned so many new events, which is really a big deal for me. A lot of the other heptathletes I know that I fall behind at Towson have been doing it since elementary and middle school. ... I’d be really proud of myself if I managed to leave a mark, considering my circumstances.”

In a message to current high school athletes, Cooke encourages them to seek out the resources for finding scholarships, both academically and athletically, in continuing their careers.

jmccray@somdnews.com