The Internet Home of Track & Field

Interval Session #98 - Karimah Shepherd

By Dave Devine - Febuary 12, 2009

While a number of this season's list-leading athletes have been somewhat easy to project, based on performances last spring, one of the most unlikely US#1 performers of the winter has to be Grassfield VA senior Karimah Shepherd, currently entrenched atop both the girls' long jump and triple jump leaderboards.  Shepherd was a late-comer to horizontal leaping, only taking up the discipline halfway through her junior year, and then on a whim.  Until that point, she'd been a strong sprinter for her Grassfield squad, but the switch to jumping has been the perfect marriage of athlete and event area.  Only twelfth in last years' Nike Indoor National triple jump with a mark of 36-11.00, and third at the Virginia 3A outdoor meet at 38-11.00 (13th in the long jump 17-01.00), Shepherd has been nothing short of spectacular since gaining the confidence of her first 40-footer at a summer meet in Virginia last June. 

She was the first girl over 40 feet in the triple jump this winter, and currently resides at US#1 with her 41-02.50 at the February 5th Southeastern Invite.  Perhaps more impressively, she also leads the long jump as the only girl in the nation over 20 feet thus far, having reached 20-00.50 at the LaShawn Merritt Invite the first weekend of February.

DyeStat senior editor Dave Devine goes through some bounding drills with an athlete bounding into the big time.
1) You've been having quite an indoor season so far, with US#1's in both horizontal jumping events.  Can you talk about the season in general, how it feels to have risen to a national elite level, and whether you feel any added pressure when you jump now?

This season has been a great learning experience for me. Coming into the year I knew I wanted to close out my high school career by doing something exciting. Jumping at a national elite level has been a huge accomplishment for me. I am trying to enjoy the moment for now, because I know there are so many great athletes out there ready to jump farther. There is definitely a lot of pressure to jump and continue to do well, but as long as I go out there relaxed and have fun, the jumps will come.

2) I understand that you've only been triple jumping for just over a year, having come to it rather late in your high school career.  How did you first get your start in jumping, when did you realize you had some real talent, and was it hard to make the switch from thinking you were a sprinter to seeing yourself as a jumper?

I actually started jumping as a joke. I saw the boys on my team do it, and I wanted to try it out too. My coach saw that I had potential, and I started learning how to jump the very next day. For the longest time I didn’t believe in myself and my confidence was very low. I was so intimidated by the other girls jumping because while I had only been jumping for a couple months, some of them had been jumping for going on almost four years. So many people would tell me that I was going to be great in jumping, and I never believed them until now. The process of switching from a sprinter to a jumper wasn’t too hard because running and sprinting are key factors to jumping.

3) I read an article that said even as late as last summer, when you first hit 40 feet in the triple jump, you were still very uncertain about your footing and hitting the board properly.  Have you overcome some of those challenges this year, and if so, what has made the difference?  How have you made the leap to the "big time" this year?

My footing on the board was my biggest problem for me last year. It was so bad that the coaches running the long jump and triple jump [at meets] knew me as “the girl that never hits the board.” The reason I never hit the board was because I would peek down at the board, resulting in my mark being thrown off. I still have those problems, but not as much, I am more confident in my mark, plus I have changed my approach speed. I think I have made it to the big time by just practicing, listening and having fun.

4) You've been excelling as both a triple jumper and a long jumper, but do you prefer one over the other?  What's your favorite part about each horizontal jump?

I prefer triple jump, mainly because it is my stronger event compared to long jump. My favorite part of jumping is watching the event coordinators measure how far I have jumped; it is truly the most exciting part.

5) It sounds like Coach Pat Banks has been instrumental in helping you learn the event.  Can you talk about the support and coaching you receive there at Grassfield HS, and perhaps the role your family plays in offering support and encouragement, too?  How does your summer club team fit into the mix, in terms of training and coaching?

The coaching I have been receiving at my school is great. All of my coaches are very vocal in helping me become, not only a good jumper, but also a great athlete altogether. Coach Banks has been there since the beginning and is always pushing me to become better.  Even when I feel like giving up he is always there to reassure me that I can do it. My parents support me so much, and they try to attend all of my track meets. Last summer, I ran for Flames Speed Factory for AAU, and my jumping coach, Coach Jessie Grant, believed in me so much. He told me if I just calm down and have fun that I would surprise myself and that’s exactly what I did when I jumped 40 feet for the first time.
6) A lot of our readers are familiar with a typical week of workouts for runners, but less familiar with what a week of training would look like for a national class jumper.  Can you describe a week of practice...what you do each day and at what level of intensity?

A typical practice is filled with not just jumping, but sprinting too. Sprinting is a HUGE part of jumping. I also try to do a lot of runway approaches so I can work on making sure I am on the board. Bounding is another thing that I do so I can work on holding my jumping phases.
7) I know you recently signed a letter of intent to attend North Carolina State University (right).  Can you talk about the recruiting process, where else you may have looked, and what eventually led you to join the Wolfpack?

The recruiting process was very stressful for me. For the longest time I was torn between UNC and NC State. Both are great schools, not only in athletics but also education-wise. Coach Chris Coleman (NC State coach) won over, not only me, but my family too.  I also have had a great bond with him from the beginning and I feel very comfortable with him. I am very happy about my decision in becoming a part of the Wolfpack family.

8) Outside of the demands and commitments of competitive jumping, what else keeps you busy, or what other interests and hobbies do you have?  When you have a few hours of free time what would we find Karimah Shepherd doing?

I love my school and I try to be at every football and basketball game to show my school spirit. It’s my senior year, so I try to have as much fun as possible.  In my free time, I love to hang out with my friends and family. My dad just got Rock Band for our Wii, and I am completely addicted to it now. My mom sings, my dad plays the guitar and I play the drums—it is truly a family affair.

Photos courtesy of Karimah Shepherd

Interval Sessions Index