Youssef Benzamia is 3,905 miles from home.
Or, as they may say in his hometown of Nice, France, roughly 6,284 kilometers.
The freshman jumper for the University at Albany indoor track and field team made the decision to leave home because, though his technique was impeccable, he knew he could develop physically in an American program.
“I have played track and field since I was 10 or 11, so my technique is very, very good. I came here because I know that in America, they work a lot on the strength,” Benzamia said. “Here, I have increased my power a lot. If I practice a lot on my power, I will be very good this year. That’s the major part of the work for me.”
He saw the benefits of that strength training in the long jump at the Armory Collegiate Invitational in New York City on Feb. 7, turning in a personal best of 24 feet, 5 3⁄4 inches on his first jump.
Or as they announced it at the meet, 7.46 meters. His previous best was 7.28 meters, or 23-10 1⁄2.
“I said, ‘Oh, in one jump, I jumped farther than before,’ ” he said. “I didn’t focus about what I’m going to jump. I just focused about the run-up and the jump, I focused about the strategy. I was more focused to jump good, not to jump far. I just wanted to jump good, and when you jump good, you jump far.”
The mark ties him with Fred Casimo (2010) for second on UAlbany’s all-time indoor list. He is ranked 28th in the nation, and that jump put more than a foot of distance between him and the next closest competitor in the America East Conference.
Through the years, Benzamia also has competed in the 100-meter dash, 400-meter hurdles, high jump and triple jump, and he has participated in the European Athletics Junior Championships.
Training and competing in the U.S. may have its advantages, but it also has its challenges. One of the most noticeable differences, he said, has been his training schedule.
“The track is different because I train every day, I practice two times a day, and in France, I practiced five times a week,” Benzamia said. “So here, I almost do what I did in [a week in] France in just two days.”
On top of being an up-and-coming Division I athlete, Benzamia also is a physics major, so he has to train his mind with as much dedication as he trains his body.
Striking a balance between academics and athletics, though, can be a challenge, especially with his lessons now being taught in English.
“It’s like when you’ve got some injury in track, you will feel a little sad, because track is my life. When I am sad in track, I will be less motivated in school, so sometimes, it is very difficult,” Benzamia said. “When one of the two is not good, it’s like school is going to decrease, and track, too. To be good, you have to be good at the two at the same time. I think it’s like that for everybody.”
His goal for the rest of his freshman year is to work toward a high NCAA ranking in his events, but aside from that, he wants to take life one day at a time, one jump at a time, and see where it leads him.
“For me, it’s simple. Since I’m young, I just want to enjoy the track and field,” Benzamia said. “My life is to jump, so I just want to jump, jump, jump. And after, at the end, I will see what doors opened.”