Ben Rozak

Two Cal Poly track and field freshmen, Jerae Byrd and Jasmine Pickett, have more than the first letter of their names in common. Both hail from Ohio – 2,341 miles away from the sunny landscapes of San Luis Obispo.

How did two Ohioans end up so far from home?

Both excelled in their respective premier events (hurdles for Byrd and jumps for Pickett) and, although the athletes grew up in separate towns, over the summer they shared the same coach, whose daughter attended Cal Poly.

As both girls approached their high school graduations, he recommended them to Cal Poly’s team director, Terry Crawford.

“I had offers from Wisconsin, Texas Christian, South Florida, University of Cincinnati,” Byrd remembers. “Cal Poly seemed the most promising.”

For the Mustangs, both Byrd and Pickett have been promising in return.

Pickett met an NCAA West Regional qualifying standard in the long jump April 11 at UCLA’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee/Rafer Johnson Invitational with a bound of 19 feet, 8 _ inches.

She’s also qualified for Big West Conference competition in the 200-meter dash (by clocking a 25.47-second mark March 8 at the UCLA Invitational) and the triple jump (with a 39-6 « April 5 at the Stanford Invitational).

Byrd has met the Big West bars in the 100 hurdles (in 14.56 Saturday at the VS Athletics Beach Invitational) and the 400 hurdles (in 1:03.94 March 15 at Fresno State).

Even though Byrd’s parents didn’t want her to move so far away, she says her mother has supported her from the beginning, and that she talks to her immediately before and after races, which helps ease homesickness.

Byrd, a four-time USA Track and Field Youth All-American, graduated with honors from Trotwood-Madison High in Trotwood, Ohio and has been competing in hurdles for eight years.

She “just got a passion for it” the second she tried the sport.

“It’s an event not everyone can do,” Byrd says. “It’s all about rhythm, and the technical demand is intense.”

In order to meet regional standards, Byrd will have to run the 100 hurdles in 13.92, and the 400 hurdles in 1:00.82.

For her long-term goals, Byrd is considering graduate school so she can become a pathologist, but has always wanted to go to the Olympics and hopes to one day go pro.

“Running is my passion and I would do it for the rest of my life if I could,” Byrd says.

Pickett has Olympic aspirations of her own.

“(The season’s) going really well,” Pickett says. “I set (personal records) and I qualified for regionals.”

Pickett has been jumping for just four years, starting track her freshman year of high school after an accomplished gymnastics career.

“Being a gymnast, it came naturally to me,” Pickett says. “But it was time for a change in my life. Gymnastics took a lot out of me.”

She won the Ohio state championship in the long jump in 2006, and was a two-time Junior Olympic qualifier while at Urbana High in Urbana, Ohio before visiting Baylor and Michigan State and ultimately committing to Cal Poly.

Now, besides majoring in kinesiology, Pickett is focusing on adjusting her jumping technique.

“In the long jump, I’ve got to work on keeping my eyes up – I always look down,” she says.

The freshman is also trying to perfect using the hitch-kick technique, which means she would have to stop throwing her arms and head back when she jumps, and basically run in the air instead.

She says the transition has been challenging, but fruitful, much like her move to California.

“I want to do the best that I can and help the team,” Pickett says.

Cal Poly will host UC Santa Barbara in a dual meet May 3.

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