Talented freshman keeps humility during NAU career
BY MATT HAYNIE —
The sky hung heavy with gray. The remnants of the previous night’s surprise snow shower pooled into puddles on the NAU outdoor track, the grass still slick with unexpected precipitation.
Despite the field’s soggy conditions, the NAU women’s distance squads had just finished their morning workout and were cooling down in the locker room. It is 10 a.m., and while other students were settling into their first class or even rolling out of bed, these runners were already finished with an intense morning on the track.
Among the team is Northern Arizona University (NAU) freshman distance runner Rolonda Jumbo. Originally from Chinle High School, Jumbo ran many of her races in Flagstaff’s Buffalo Park. During her high-school running career, Jumbo racked up quite a list of accomplishments, including being a four-time state champion in cross country, winning six individual track state titles, leading her team to three Arizona 3A and Division 3 state titles and competing in the USA National Cross Country Championships four times.
It was clear when Jumbo walked out of the locker room none of that had gone to her head. The young runner was soft-spoken and possesses a surprisingly shy demeanor for someone in the track spotlight so often.
Jumbo was right, though — it was cold. The conversation continued inside of the Health and Recreation Center, where on a staircase, Jumbo made herself comfortable.
NAU wasn’t the only school to offer Jumbo a place on their team. There were other schools she considered, such as Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. and the University of Colorado-Boulder. While some of the reasons Jumbo chose NAU were because of Flagstaff’s beauty and the running program, the biggest reason was because her high school coach and role model, Shaun Martin, attended NAU. Like Jumbo, Martin attended NAU on scholarship. Although injuries hampered Martin’s running, he graduated in 2004 with a degree in health promotions for education and went on to have an impact on both Chinle High School and Jumbo.
“He was a huge influence on my running,” Jumbo said. “He helped me get to the next level in high school and took care of his athletes.”
Jumbo has faced such obstacles as increasde mileage, more intense workouts and getting used to a new team, but she is settling in just fine.
“Rolonda is a workhorse,” said graduate assistant coach Leah Rosenfeld. “She works really hard and helps the team in practice; she’s been great to have here.”
Sophomore distance runner and teammate Kylee Kieser, who competed against Jumbo in high school as a runner for Marcos de Niza High School in Casa Grande, also spoke highly of Jumbo’s role on the team and work ethic.
“Rolonda is a great competitor on and off the track. She’s really friendly,” Kieser said. “She has the drive to keep going and she knows when she’s in it, she’s in it for the long run.”
In fall 2012, Jumbo placed 10th in October’s Big Sky Championships with a time of 17:46.4 and 62nd in November’s Mountain Region Championships with a time of 22:10.6. So far in spring 2013, Jumbo is ranked 11th in Big Sky for the mile run with a time of 4:57.28, 14th in the 3000-meter dash with a time of 9:54.30, and 11th in the steeplechase with a time of 11:10.49.
Jumbo has noticed the transition into the team, as a runner and the classroom as a criminal justice major, becoming easier as her freshman year progressed.
“Everything seems to be falling into place now,” Jumbo said. “It was hard at first being away from home.”
Home is a huge part of Jumbo’s life and is where she shakes off the stress of running by riding her horses and working on the family ranch.
“Ranching is pretty much my other life,” Jumbo said.
Rosenfeld thought Jumbo’s life at home and her work on the ranch was a key part of her solid work ethic.
“The foundations that her family gave her and the way she grew up made her competitive,” Rosenfeld said. “When she goes home she works on the farm. She’s very hands-on and that’s made her a hard worker.”
Considering Jumbo had a list of chores that included making water for the animals with multiple hoses, shoveling cow and horse manure and hefting wheelbarrows 800 meters down dirt roads and back, it makes sense ranching contributed both to her character and prepared her for the physical test of cross country.
“I think ranching really helped my endurance, because I had a lot of chores. I had to get them done no matter what,” Jumbo said.
However, there was a time when Jumbo’s second life clashed with running.
She enjoyed participating in a particular rodeo event called barrel racing, which involves riding around barrels in a sort of clover pattern with the object being to get the fastest time. While she took spills off of her horse, one fall in particular hurt her badly enough to cause concern about her cross country future.
“I got hurt pretty bad. My family didn’t want me to lose my chance at a scholarship,” Jumbo said.
Faced with a worried family and the possibility of being hurt worse and jeopardizing her promising future as a track star, Jumbo gave up barrel racing.
Jumbo ended up getting the sought-after scholarship and her future as a track star is looking bright as ever; but despite it all, she still remains humble and doesn’t underestimate the level of competition in college running.
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Jumbo said. “I’m going to have to work four-times harder than I did in high school.”