Guyanese Natricia Hooper and the path to Eugene
- A native of Guyana, Gators jumper Natricia Hooper speaks about her journey from her home country to the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
Two thousand two hundred and twenty-six.
That’s how many miles Gators triple jump star Natricia Hooper lives from home.
In 2017, at 18 years old, Hooper moved to America alone. Growing up in the South American country of Guyana, Hooper’s transition to her new home was far from easy.
“There was nobody there to tell me what to do,” she said.
She found herself in a completely different environment surrounded by different people who spoke a different language. In every way, Hooper was alone. Alone, but driven.
Last week, Hooper qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Her dream of becoming the first track and field athlete to bring an Olympic medal home to Guyana is her ultimate end goal. (*Boxer Micheal Parris is the lone Guyanese to win an Olympic medal, having done so in 1980)
The journey to winning an Olympic medal is a long way from being achieved, but the obstacles she overcame to get to where she is now has her focused and ready for next week’s National Championships, which begin Wednesday and run through Saturday.
Hooper began her collegiate triple jump career at Essex County College in New Jersey. The school was her lone offer coming out of high school, but her success there earned her a scholarship to her dream school, the University of Florida.
Soon after joining the Gators in early 2019, Hooper showed tremendous promise. She shone at the 2019 SEC Indoor Championships, earning a Bronze medal and a personal best in triple jump.
But there, her career and progress abruptly halted when she tore her ACL.
“It broke my heart,” she said. “I was improving on the track and everything was going well before [the injury]. It was just hard for me to accept it.”
Once she faced the reality of her injury, she knew it was time to get to work. With her family supporting her from afar through every step of the recovery, Hooper made it back.
Then, COVID hit. Then, she injured herself again. This time in a scooter accident. For the second time in as many years, Hooper underwent surgery on her knee. But her ambition never wavered.
“I just don’t like letting people down,” she said.
And it showed. Gators jumping coach Nic Petersen says, through it all, she’s always kept a positive attitude.
“She never let it bring her down,” Petersen said. “It’s been incredible.”
Now that she looks back at the obstacles she overcame, she can’t help but feel proud.
She giggles and smiles as she looks back at how far she’s come.
“It’s just a blessing.”
But all of these obstacles are behind her, and for the moment she has just one thing on her mind: bringing a ring home to Gainesville.
“I don’t do this for myself anymore, I do this for the team,” she said proudly.
She wants to do whatever she can to help her team win a championship. And the pressure of Nationals doesn’t break her.
“I just want to go out there and have fun.”
She’s not thinking about jumping far. Her mind is focused on execution. Her mind is ready to do what she loves best.
Jumping for her school.
Jumping for something bigger than herself.
Jumping for the Gator Nation. (www.floridagators.com)
* Inserted by Editor