Chantoba Bright’s improbable rise continues at NCAA Championships
By: Austin Siegel
Her neighborhood in Guyana is called Victory Valley.
You can’t make up that part of Chantoba Bright’s story. Her hometown really does have the perfect name for an athlete who will compete at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Arkansas this weekend.
But the reality is a little different and the road that Bright has taken to Manhattan is more remarkable than most.
“My community was always really supportive of me,” she said. “Where I come from, they call it the ghetto and they always say nothing good is going to come out of the ghetto. Well, when I was discovered with my talent, the people really rallied around me, supported me and pushed me to reach my full potential.”
With a runner-up finish at the Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championships in the triple jump and a fourth-place finish in the high jump, Bright will compete against the best college athletes in the country in both events at the national meet this weekend.
Her 13.60m leap at the conference meet was the fourth-best triple jump in school history – not bad for an athlete who arrived in Manhattan less than a year ago.
Going back to her days in Victory Valley, Bright has never needed much time before taking flight.
“I won the long jump the very first time I tried it. I tried the triple jump on the same day and I won that too,” she said. “I went on to nationals and broke the record. Mind you, it took my PE coach like five minutes to teach me how to long jump.”
Growing up, Bright was convinced her future was on the track, where she dreamed of representing Guyana as a sprinter.
She started running in elementary school and didn’t stop, even after a string of second-place finishes left Bright without an invitation to Guyana’s national meet. Another runner-up finish in high school was the tipping point.
“I got second again, and I was crying because I had spent so many years trying to go to nationals,” she said. “My PE teacher took me aside and asked me if I wanted to try the long jump.”
That decision would change the trajectory of Bright’s career. She was named her country’s youth athlete of the year in 2016 and 2017 and became a star at the CARIFTA Games, an annual competition among the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, winning seven medals.
The CARIFTA Games were also the event where Bright first crossed paths with the coach who would be instrumental in her journey to the Flint Hills.
“I didn’t get a chance to talk to her because she wasn’t eligible [to recruit] yet, but I watched the competition and gave my card to a representative from Guyana,” K-State assistant coach Vincent Johnson said. “I told him I thought she was going to be pretty good and that she’s somebody who would look good in purple.”
Johnson is responsible for coaching the jumpers at K-State, including a contingent of Caribbean student-athletes from throughout the region. But when Bright began to consider her future at the NCAA level, the Wildcats didn’t have any scholarships available.
So, the Guyanese international began her college career at UTEP. In El Paso, Bright became an All-Conference USA athlete and won her first conference championship in the long jump.
After her sophomore season, Bright decided to transfer, and discovered an opportunity to reconnect with one of the first college coaches to recognize her potential at the NCAA level.
Johnson’s interest had never wavered, and once he confirmed with head coach Cliff Rovelto that K-State had a scholarship available for Bright, she was packing her bags for Manhattan.
Then, the pandemic happened.
“We’re getting tested every week, but the jumpers have been able to train together, and the support system on the jump squad has been great,” Bright said. “At my old school, I was the only jumper and didn’t have a training partner for two years. Coming here and having five or six different training partners, the energy has been phenomenal.”
Embracing her new coach’s philosophy that he can only contribute to about 20 percent of an athlete’s individual success, Bright took ownership of training and workouts at her new school.
She called the jumpers one of the “power banks” of K-State Track and Field.
“We’re not only one unit that comes together and supports each other like a family, but we also go out there, work hard, compete well and leave it all on the track, 100 percent, every time,” she said. “We get results because of our mindset.”
In her first indoor season with the Wildcats, the results haven’t been a problem for Bright.
Bright shattered PRs in the long jump and triple jump that she hasn’t touched in four years at the conference meet, elevating her to the national stage in Arkansas. She will have a chance to keep climbing up the Guyanese and K-State record books at the indoor championships this weekend.
“I’m a mental person and sometimes my biggest competitor is myself because I get in my head. My coaches and teammates helped me go out there and execute, stay focused but still have fun,” she said. “Coach Johnson always tells me on competition day there’s nothing more he can say or fix…make it your job to have more fun than everybody else.”
Bright also attributes that progress to a faith that has guided her throughout her athletic career. She prays before every meet, has committed favorite verses of scripture to memory and brings that perspective to every competition.
“As a student-athlete, there’s a lot of things that people don’t know. They see our glory, but they don’t know our story,” she said. “I’m just trying to prove the stigma wrong, that great things can come from Victory Valley.” (https://www.kstatesports.com/)