BOONTON _ The white athletic tape, Jen Ojukwu's visual aid, remained on the track in the fourth lane long after the 100-meter final had ended.
Ojukwu, a Mount Olive High School senior, placed the tape three feet in front of the starting line to remind herself where her first step should be when she takes off running.
The tape, suggested by coach Vanessa Benfatti, did the trick as Ojukwu, displeased with her slow starts, triumphed in the 100 meters on the first day of the Morris County Track and Field Championships at Boonton on Tuesday, May 17.
"I can't believe it," said Ojukwu as athletes competing in the 400 meters ran right over her all-important marking. "I'm excited that I won. I am so grateful. I just tried to be calm. Each time I run, I try to improve."
As a junior, Ojukwu finished third in the 100 in 12.79. This time, she crossed the finish line in 12.72.
She worked hard to go out strong. Prior to the race, Ojukwu took three steps with her size 12 running shoes and put down the tape before taking her place among the finalists.
"I have not been consistent. My reaction is usually slow at the beginning," Ojukwu said. "I have to pump my arms and carry through for a strong finish. i get beaten a lot at the start. I have long legs so I should do better. I have a long stride. I'm trying for consistency."
Last week, Ojukwu took gold in the 100 and 200 at the NJAC Large Schools Championships. Each medal means a great deal to her because she will not be competing in college. Ojukwu is going to NJIT to study biology and aspires to be an orthopedic surgeon.
Ojukwu became interested in the field of medicine when she hyperextended her right shoulder in January of 2015 while playing basketball. Dr. Glen Wainen popped her shoulder back in and that further peaked her interest in the medical field.
"I was very impressed," Ojukwu said. "I shadowed Dr. Wainen and sat in on two surgeries."
Over the next few weeks, Ojukwu will have the opportunity to pick up more medals in state meets and, ultimately, the Meets of Champions.
"I want to finish my senior year with a bang," she said. "Track is just about over for me so I want to do everything possible."
Lexi Smith of Roxbury, close to fully recovered from a pulled hamstring, prevailed in the 400 meters in 58.02.
"I'm really excited about this," said Smith, who has the 200 and 4x400 on Wednesday. "I've been trying to get back in the swing of things. There's a lot of good competition here."
How did Smith approach the 400?
"I had to finish through," Smith said. "Sometimes, I kick too early and die out."
Smith, a junior, did not fade and cruised to victory over a solid field that included Whippany Park's Gina Dello Russo and Mountain Lakes' Kyra Velock. She showed no signs of the injury.
"I owe this to my coaches and teammates," Smith said. "They're all so awesome. They motivate and believe in me. Sometimes, I'm not very confident."
Whippany Park senior Nickolette Dunbar broke her own MCC record on her next-to-last attempt with a throw of 52-7.75.
"I've had a rough beginning to spring track," Dunbar said. "I was throwing 47s and 48s. I wanted to be in the 50s. This showed I can do it."
Dunbar indicated that she made some adjustments. She isn't kicking her foot as high and, thus, is "coming through the middle faster."
The defending champion Wildcats, with 40 points, held an 18-point lead over second-place Hanover Park after the first day of the meet.
Other winners on the opening day of the meet, which concludes Wednesday, May 18, also at Boonton, were Randolph freshman Abby Loveys (1,600 meters, 5:00.69), Hanover Park's Anna Lazur (1:02.1 in the 400 hurdles), Julia Mszanski of Mendham in the pole vault (10-0) and Chino Anukwuem of Hanover Park in long jump (19-0).
***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***
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