When the 2006 track and field season is said and done, senior Kerry-Ann Blackwood will leave Portland State University with her name and silhouette overshadowing the long jump pits and hurdles — where she has already set four school records and claimed four Big Sky Conference titles.
What Blackwood will take with her is the satisfaction of the journey.
"When new people come to Portland State, when they start to have a really hard time, that's when I tell my story," Blackwood said.
Raised by a single parent in the city of Santa Cruz, Jamaica, from the age of 9, Blackwood experienced hardships early in her life.
"When my parents separated in 1995, my mom had to work three jobs," Blackwood said. "She wouldn't get home till late. My mom did a really good job of making sure that I never wanted. I learned from a young age to be dependent on the things I need."
Atayoungage, Blackwood's "needs" included hanging out with her friends and staying active.
"I was a little tomboy," Blackwood said. "I was always running around the house. My mom would yell at me because she didn't want me scraping my knees. I had tons of cuts and bruises."
Favorite memories for Blackwood are "Sport Day" competitions — a reoccurring day where athletic activity took center stage. Between kindergarten and sixth grade, she especially looked forward to the events most closely related to track and field.
"We would hurdle over chairs," Blackwood said, " and jump into the sand pits under the swings."
After school she would make fires in the bushes near her neighborhood and have cookouts with her friends or climb in fruit trees behind her house.
Upon finishing her day, Blackwood spent most of her time alone at home. This worried her mother, and soon the decision was made to send her to the Hampton School, a boarding school. Her older sister was already attending the school and would be able to keep an eye on her. Blackwood became the youngest student accepted at the Hampton, having just turned 10 when she first walked on campus.
Blackwood discovered The Hampton School's poorly funded track program her freshman year.
"Ourhigh school didn't want to put a lot of money into track because it wasn'tvery ladylike," she said.
Although there were limitations on athletic activity, Blackwood's talent immediately came to the forefront. In her five years as a high schoolheptathlete, Blackwood competed at Jamaica's national meet each year.
Blackwoodgraduated from high school in 2000 at the age of 15 and continued to attend The Hampton School for the next two years, studying in the school's junior college program. Athletically, she continued to improve, earning the school's Female Athlete of the Year award from 2000 to 2002. During the 2001trackseason, Blackwood placed fourth in the Jamaican national heptathlon. In 2002, she took fifth in the heptathlon and fourth in the 100 meters.
After the 2002 season, Blackwood, then 17, got together with her high school track coach and began looking at her options.
"The track programs back home are good, but they're also not funded," Blackwood said. "With an older sister studying, my mom was paying 80,000 Jamaican dollars for boarding alone. I needed a scholarship because I couldn't put that kind of pressure on my mom."
Ironically, an e-mail to future Viking Head Coach Kebba Tolbert gave Blackwood the break she needed.
"I got an e-mail from Kerry-Ann when I was at Syracuse University," Tolbert said. "We didn't have any more money for heptathletes, so I forwarded it to the Portland State head coach at the time, Coach Veney."
Things moved quickly from there.
"Next thing I know I get an e-mail saying, 'We're interestedinyou,'" Blackwood said.
During her freshman season, Blackwood shared atwo-roomapartment with three of Portland State's best women track athletes,Keishaand Kerine Harvey, and Ena Shemi. Although living with the Jamaican Harvey sisters eased her transition to living in the American culture, she felt challenged athletically.
"I felt I had a lot to prove living with the top dogs," Blackwood said.
Even after the arrival of a new head coach, Tolbert, her sophomore year was still full of turmoil. After the indoor season had been completed, Blackwood's marks and work ethic were well behind those expected of scholarship athletes.
"I was going to get cut," Blackwood said. "I had to find a way to get over the emotions.
"I told myself I needed to have fun," Blackwood said, and it worked.
"Her whole attitude and workethicchanged," Tolbert said. "She decided that she wanted to contribute to our squad and wanted to help us get better."
Furthermore, Blackwood began to focus on both the hurdles and long jump, while learning to use her emotions to her advantage. She took great strides during the 2004 outdoor season, finishing fifth in the long jump and seventh in the 100-meter hurdles at the BigSkyConference Outdoor Championships. She also finished the season with personal bests of 18 feet. 5.25 inches in the long jump and 14.95 seconds in the 100 meter hurdles.
Summer and fall training paid huge dividends come the beginning of the 2004-2005 indoor season. At the Kansas State All-Comers meet on Dec. 15, 2004, Blackwood attained a new long jump school record, leaping 19 feet, 1.5 inches. She entered the 2005 Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships with the stage set for something great.
After running down the long jump runway at Pocatello, Idaho, Blackwood landed and the sand kicked up on a 19-foot, 11.5-inch leap — not only the best long jump in school history but the mark of a Big Sky champion.
At a post-meet huddle, tears of joy rushed down Blackwood's face. She had not only helped the team to a third-place finish, the best finish for a Viking team to that point, but she also felt that personally, she'd finally made it.
"You have to do it for yourself or it won't work," Blackwood said.
As the 2006 outdoor seasonprogressesand Blackwood leaps and races the final events of her career, she hopes she'll finish strong. She finished the 2006 indoor season by placing third in the long jump and second in the 60 meter hurdles, helping the Portland State women's team finish in second place, the best finish for any Viking track team in school history.