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Interval Session #88 - Tynita Butts

By SteveU - January 9, 2009

When you start to get to know Tynita Butts, it’s clear you’ve met someone with a lot of passion for the sport, a girl with a sense of humor and irony, and someone who’s found a way to be with the potential stagnation that can come with trying to compete and progress from the early youth ranks through a satisfying finale in high school.  It’s not often that a girl with a strong background as a youth is still reaching her peak in the last few years of her prep career, but Tynita has found a way. 

It’s not that she doesn’t have the valleys – oh, she does; witness her “no mark” performances in the long jump at Virginia AAA outdoor state last year and at USATF Juniors.  But those valleys were outweighed by the soaring peaks.  At her indoor state meet, she reached the 20-foot mark in the long jump to overcome a big mental barrier.  At NSIC, while she was edged in the long jump, she won the high jump with a big PR (and aching shins).  In three meets outdoors, over a month, she jumped 20-03 or better, including a victory in the prestigious Penn Relays.

A few weeks ago, another barrier was cleared – 5-09 in the high jump – as Tynita revved up her indoor season.  Having committed to Eastern Carolina, the T.C. Williams VA sr has a chance to do something no prep girl has ever done before: 6-0 and 21-0.  Whether or not she hits those marks, the girl whose is jokingly compared by her coach to 70s baseball icon Mark “The Bird” Fidrych” will have definitely left an her indelible print in the prep ranks.

DyeStat senior editor SteveU catches the nation's most versatile leaper before another weekend meet.

Butts' winning high jump at NSIC 08 left her all smiles afterward.  Photo John Nepolitan
1) Tynita, congrats on your recent 5-9 high jump PR.  You had a lot of 5-6 jumps on your resume and a 5-8.50 on your resume.  How did it feel to finally get 5-9?  What are some things in training you’ve been working on this fall and winter to improve?

It felt great!  I wasn’t overwhelmed at all, like I usually am, because I had cleared 5-7 in practice in the days before and I knew I was ready.  I remember looking at 5-8 and it looked like 5-6; so when I saw 5-9, it didn’t look very high and I knew I had it.  My coach and I have been working on a lot this season such as my approach, my butt – ha-ha! – and a new way for me to kick my legs.  At first, I didn’t really believe my coach when he was demonstrating, but now I know it works well.  Now I’m learning arm control since I’m pretty sloppy with that – ha-ha!
2)  You had some incredible highlights your junior year – winning National Scholastic high jump, winning Penn Relays long jump, and getting those first 20-footers in the long jump.  Please take some time and tell us about some of those events and what meant the most to you when it was all said and done.

Well, it’s really hard for me to choose but I would say the long jump is my first nature.  I’ve always loved the long jump since I first began track, but I never thought I would be this good at it.  Don’t get me wrong, I always knew I was good but I didn’t think I would come this far.  I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to jump a 20-footer but I didn’t start to believe until one day at practice I was doing pop-ups and with just a pop-up I was jumping mid 18’s. 

My coach was like, imagine if you were actually running how far you would jump.  So I started to believe … but out of nowhere it happened unexpectedly.  I was in shocked for two months straight, ha-ha!  I just didn’t really believe it; even when I got interviewed and I saw the measuring tape for myself I just couldn’t believe it. 

That day at Penn was the coolest blessing ever!  See, I had made it to the meet the year before (2007) in both high and long jump, but I had a different coach then who wouldn’t let me go.  So, when the time came to practice for it last spring and I got there, I didn’t know what to expect.  That day meant a lot to me.  I gained the confidence that I could do it again and again.

What happened at NSIC … I never expected to get second in the long jump and was most of all overwhelmed with my new PR in the high jump.  I went there hoping I would win the long and ended up winning the high – what a shocking experience!  It shocked me because I knew I was injured all season and I knew my shins couldn’t handle any more, so when I made 5-07.50, I thought to myself, “OK, Ty, you’re done; I’m not going to get 5-08.50, but just do it anyways.”  I was on my last attempt, and finally knew I could do it, and I flew over that bar.  I told my coach I didn’t really feel I could jump over it and that it felt like – I know it sounds cheesy – but that God lifted me up.  That day, I fell in love with high jump once again!

3) On the other side of the coin, at the end of the year, against the incredible women’s long jump field gathered at USATF Junior Nationals last June, you had three fouls.  Can you talk about what happened there and how much of a motivating factor is the memory of that for this year?
Wow!  I was speechless when I got there and almost speechless when I left.  Till this day, I’m still sad about it, but I can’t change the past.  I was very anxious when we arrived, so my coach and I decided to get some jumps in and start warming up.  I was the first out on the track. My body was ready.  I was loose and getting in good jumps.  As soon as the girls arrived, the anxiety hit me so hard, I didn’t know what to feel!  I felt excited, ready, nervous all at the same time and I couldn’t stop shaking.

After the meet started, and I missed my first two jumps, that’s when all nervousness really broke out.  All I kept thinking about was, “Don’t do like what happened at states (no mark in LJ),” and my coach has said the same thing.  I wasn’t focused.  I wanted to win so badly and everyone could see I was jumping further than most of those girls.  After my last jump I was done.  I got my things, left quietly, and actually went behind a tree and cried my heart out.  I was so devastated to have come so far and repeated the same situation like states the month before.  I had gone out and gotten a passport (for World Junior meet) like I was told, did the clearing house, all of it, and left with nothing.  I was angry; that’s how I felt, so I cried.

While I was crying, other coaches were trying to figure out what was wrong with me and asking me questions like, where your coach?  I didn’t want to talk to anybody and completely shut everyone around me out.  A few minutes later, I was still upset and still sitting behind the tree until this lady came over and started talking to me.  She was polite and pretty.  She looked like a coach, so she pulled me up and we went to go find my coach.  On the way, she told me a situation she was in when she ran track. She told me how she had the same thing happen to her before and how she had to just move on and learn from it. 

I honestly didn’t want to listen to what she had to say because all I wanted was time to myself, but I calmed down.  She asked me, “Do you know who I am?”  I said, “No ma’am.”  She said, “I’m Stephanie Hightower (now USATF President),” and the funny thing was, I had never heard of her.  We talked and walked around for a bit while she told me a little bit about herself, then she introduced me to one of the USATF coaches and he was cool.  I found my coach and they all talked, so I left to watch the girls jump.  After they talked, we said our goodbyes and left.  We just got right back in the car and left.  I was so exhausted, I went straight to sleep on the way back.

Butts is 2nd in the LJ at 2008 NSIC. 
Photo John Nepolitan 

4) Although you wouldn’t think they are terribly different, the fact is that not many top long jumpers do the high jump, or vice versa.  We’ve researched the lists and it doesn’t look like any high schooler has ever jumped both 6-0 in the HJ and 21-0 in the LJ.  Can you tell us about how you got started doing both?  Have you ever analyzed what special talents you have that enable you to do both?  What does it take in training to keep improving at these two events?

I’ve been running since the age of 8 or 9, and started doing gymnastics at age 6, so it was all fun and games for me as a child. When I started track, I was pretty good with both high and long jump, but my best event was the 100 dash, believe it or not, ha-ha!  I was then 9 years old, jumping 4-4 in the high jump.  Back then, I never took it as serious as now; I just wanted to run, play and win blue ribbons, ha-ha!  To be honest, I’ve never seen myself as having a chance to go to the Olympics or growing this fast.  Everything happened so fast. 

When I was living in Georgia, I’ve never even seen an indoor facility or heard of Milestat.  I’d always just done outdoor track and just started doing AAU in ‘04 and ‘05.  We don’t have very much recognition in Georgia, but when I moved back to Virginia, it all changed. 

I don’t know exactly what enables me to do both events.  What I do know is my family is very athletic, so it’s genetic, and I think all the walking on my tippy toes over the years (in gymnastics) made my legs stronger.  Training for both high and long jump is no joke.  It comes with a lot of injuries and a lot more practice.  When you think about it, jumping over a bar that could most likely injure you is not so easy.  First, you got to want it.  You’ve got to have confidence to do the high and long; it’s mostly mental.  You have to trick yourself into believing the bar is not there and that the height you’re actually looking at is lower than it really appears.  The rest is physical and that’s when practice comes in; then you’re going to need comfortable shoes, and a lot of ice and Epson Salt, ha-ha!

5) Your coach says that you have a laid-back approach or personality that reminds him of athletes from the 70s, and I saw where you called the track your “playground.”  Thinking also about your history in the sport, it makes me wonder how hard it is to sustain excellence and keep improving when you’ve started so young.  Is there a mental approach you’ve found to keep it fresh and fun over the years?

Ha ha!  The 70’s!  Ha ha!  Definitely, yes!  It is getting very difficult to keep from peaking.  Lots of times I have to make it fun when it gets frustrating.  But because I started so young, I’m harder on myself than most of my coaches, because I expect to know better by now.  Before they could say anything, I’m already thinking it.  When it starts to get hard or boring, I sometimes get discouraged or get lazy; but once you have the endurance, it’s all mental from there.  I have to use my imagination when it starts to get boring – or before a race listen to my mp3.
6) T.C. Williams is probably one of the best-known schools in the country, thanks to Remember the Titans (one of my favorite movies, I must confess).  I read that you don’t have a track there … true?  Also that Coach Edmonds and the staff are fairly new?  Tell me what it’s like at TC nowadays, what you’ve done to train without a home school track and how your current coaches have helped you be successful.

 Butts clears 5-09 in early Jan. 2009.  Photo submitted by Coach Marshall Edmonds.
Well, now we do have a track and I am taking advantage of it as much as I can. It’s a nice track, but we still have no long jump.  So we have to stick to what we’ve got, like going over to Episcopal on holiday breaks to use the good mats or the long jump pit.

I believe that Coach Edmonds is a good coach and he means well.  He wants to see all of us grow and achieve our goals, mostly college.  He believes in education first, 100 percent.  Having such a diverse coaching staff is great.  Sometimes, like any other team, we get on each other’s nerves, but it’s different this year.  I feel the team is closer and more dedicated than I’ve ever seen them before. 

As far as the movie … I find it kind of ironic that the school is remembered for a team with so much pride and team spirit, but our pep rallies are so dead and our games are so boring.  We have no school spirit.  It’s about a handful of students who will get this school jumping to be honest.

7) An interview I saw with you gave me the impression you are a very spiritual person.  Can you talk about how your religious faith and your family have helped you become the student-athlete you are today?

Yes, I do love the Lord and my mother is a very religious person.  Seeing my mother and my family continuously struggle makes me upset.  I want to help my mom and family … my mother most of all; she is my inspiration.  She is the strongest woman I’ve ever known.  Just her life as a child, not really having a childhood and raising children so young is amazing to me.  By the age of 23, she was living in the projects with four children, by herself, with no man’s help.  That makes me emotional every time I think about it, because I don’t know how she did it.  I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my mom.  She gives God all the glory and I do, too.  Yes, I do believe I was meant for greatness and I believe I was meant to inspire young people – and all people – to do what they love.

8)  Looking ahead, what are your biggest goals for indoor and outdoor, in terms of championships and personal bests?  Where are you considering going to college and what are your long-term goals?

My goals for indoor would be for the high jump would be to clear 5-10, long jump 20-8, 55 dash 6.9, and 300m 40.0.  For outdoor – yes, my fave! Ha-ha! – it would be to clear 6-0 in HJ, 21-0 in LJ, 200m 23.00, and 100m 11.8.  I have decided to be a ECU Pirate!  And I’m going to continue to run and I want to jump for the 2012 Olympics!

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