Samantha Hjelmar carries around a picture of herself high-jumping as a seventh grader. She said it makes her cringe.
“My form was terrible,” the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 15-year-old said Friday during a break from practice. “I look at it as a reminder of what not to do. I use it as inspiration.”
Hjelmar’s technique has improved greatly over the years, and in the process, the heights she’s cleared have increased, too.
Last month, the sophomore won the Emerging Elite title at the New Balance Indoor Nationals with a jump of 5-6 1⁄2, which equaled the fifth-best all-time effort for a Section II athlete.
“She has the best work ethic on our team. She’s tough and determined, but what stands out to me is how humble and gracious she is,” said Burnt Hills track and field coach Emily Lewek. “When she’s successful, she’s pretty low key about it. She’s proud of her accomplishment, but always displays great sportsmanship and congratulates the other athletes.
“I believe it’s important to have that quality.”
The young role model also has an inner drive, and her motivation these days stems from the 5-5 she cleared at the 2013 outdoor state meet qualifier and again at the meet itself when she placed third among Division 1 competitors. No other freshman was even close to the podium.
“Five-seven is my goal for the season,” said Hjelmar, who went 5-2 in the rain to win at Saturday’s Hudson Falls invitational. “I’m going to work on my technique, watch Olympians on film, work with Brittany Dexter.”
Dexter won the state Division 1 high jump championship as a Burnt Hills senior in 2006, and the school indoor (5-8 1⁄2) and outdoor (5-8 3⁄4) record holder has been providing Hjelmar with tips.
“I’ve wanted it since I was in middle school,” Hjelmar said of the school outdoor mark. “I almost went 5-7 3⁄4, and that’s an inch away. It’s possible by my senior year. That would be awesome.”
Hjelmar’s near miss at 5-73⁄4 came after her Emerging Elite triumph at The Armory Track and Field Center in New York City in mid March.
Her indoor best before the nationals was a 5-5, which she achieved this past season at the state meet qualifier and again at the state event when she took third among the public school jumpers.
“I was the only one to clear it [5-6 1⁄2]. Second attempt,” she said of her performance at the nationals. “They asked me about the next height, and I said 5-7, then someone mentioned that the meet record was 5-7 1⁄2. I told them to go up to 5-7 3⁄4 to see if I could get the record, and I almost got it. I came that close, why can’t I do it now?”
“I’m saying 5-8 this year,” said Lewek. “She has time and there’s no pressure, but I just see unlimited potential.
“When I was a runner here, Brittany was here,” Lewek added. “The similarities are uncanny.”
Heljmar takes her athletic training seriously, and wasn’t about to let a forehead cut that recuired nine stitches keep her away.
“It was at the beginning of outdoor, over at Union College. I was doing work with a bungie and the standard fell on top of me,” she said. “Good thing it was on a Friday. I had the weekend off and I went back at it.”
“It was a small cut, but a deep cut, and it was bleeding pretty good,” said Lewek. “When I say she’s tough, I mean extremely tough.”
The 6-foot tall sophomore is versatile, as well.
“She just started doing the triple jump. At her first meet, she went 30 feet,” said Lewek. “She’s one of our top 200 runners, she can run the 400 hurdles, and she’s an alternate on our four-by-one relay. She’s the kind of kid who can do it all, and do it well.”