What Maria Jimenez accomplished in the javelin this spring season is a good enough story on its own, but when you throw in an unlikely rise and life-threatening illness, it makes the whole thing seem more like a fairy tale.
The senior, who ended up breaking the state record in the javelin with a throw of 160 feet, 8 inches — five feet better than the previous record — played softball as a freshman. The Monmouth-bound, Division I scholarship athlete was also out of commission for seven months due to a blood clot in her leg that put her in a hospital for two weeks and kept her from working out until March.
The journey to elite thrower has been exciting, but surreal at the same time.
“It’s starting to finally hit me,” Jimenez said. “At the sports banquet we had, they presented me with the state champ plaque and it had a list of all my achievements on there, and I was like, ‘Wow! That many?'”
That’s because the list of what Jimenez accomplished this year is vast. She won the Cumberland County Meet, the Cape-Atlantic League Championships, the Woodbury Relays, Group IV South and Group IV. She was second at the prestigious Penn Relays and second at the Meet of Champions. All of that on top of shattering the state record.
She can also add to her list the title of 2012 Daily Journal Girls’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
Always an athlete, Jimenez picked up the javelin as a sophomore. She emerged at the end of last year as one of the best in the state, but then this year came along. Meet record after meet record fell and crowds started to form whenever she threw. In the back of her mind, Jimenez remembered where she was just months ago, injecting herself with blood thinners and unable to work out.
“For me, it’s still a surprise,” Jimenez said. “I know from the outside looking in, people are like, ‘How did she go from the hospital bed to all of this?’ But I know how I am and how strong I am, so I don’t see it like that.”
“It’s a lot of determination on her part as an athlete and as a person,” Vineland throws coach Greg Geraci said.
Still a newcomer to the sport, Jimenez continued to play travel soccer until last summer, meaning she didn’t even put her total focus into throwing.
“I’ve been playing soccer forever, I started doing track to stay in shape,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t really start calling myself a thrower until the end of last year, maybe this year.”
But as a state record holder — she broke a mark set by Daina Purcurs of Demarest in 2005 — there’s no other way to think of yourself. Of course, that record wasn’t even a goal until she was just inches away from claiming it.
“I didn’t really know too much about it until maybe the meet before I broke it,” Jimenez said.
Out of all of the accomplishments, Jimenez said having her name in the state record books is what she will remember the most.
“For me, it’s the state record, because hitting the 160, it started a whole new series for me,” Jimenez said.
That number gives her plenty of confidence moving on to college. Improving by more than five feet when you’re already hitting stratospheric marks is a sign that you still have a way to go before reaching your ceiling.
That 160-8 mark is the third-best throw in the country this season according to online track and field database milesplit.us.
“She can get the numbers as high as she wants them, to be honest,” Geraci said. “I really believe with her capability, she’s just starting to chip away.”