Zara Northover, a member of Sewanhaka High School's Class of 2002, has been quite busy since graduation.
She accepted a full scholarship for track and field at Northeastern University in Boston, graduated in May 2007 and began working in the university's alumni relations office until April. That's when she decided to pursue a longtime passion - train full time for this summer's Olympics.
She hopes to represent Jamaica in shot put in Beijing, China, the scene of the 2008 summer games.
"I need help from my community for I have realized that my dream is a vision that will become a reality if I continue to work towards it. Please help to support me as I look to make my family, friends, community, schools and you proud. In Jamaica we have this saying, 'Out of Many, One People.' My dreams are not mine alone and I know that I cannot do this without the support of others," Northover admits.
With the Olympic trials just weeks away, on June 27, at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica, Northover has to come in first or second at the trials and hit a minimum of the B standard, which is 17.20m, or the A standard, which is 18.35m, to qualify.
She threw a personal best of 17.01m at the Tuscan Throwers Elite Meet in Tucson, AZ back in May and has set out to get the standard before the Olympic trials on the 27th. She does however have until July 23 to try and attain the standard. Northover doesn't want to wait that long, hoping to attain it this Sunday, June 8, at the Island Games at Mitchel Field in Uniondale.
The waiting is the hardest part. Northover won't know if she qualifies for the Olympic team until trials end - when the Jamaica Olympic Association announces their list of candidates or when she gets word from the federation, whichever comes first.
As a young girl, Northover said she learned the fundamentals of strength, perseverance and sacrifice earlier than most. "It was always just my mother and I. My mom, as I recall now, is responsible for almost all of my successes in life. Big or small, there was nothing she wouldn't do for me," Northover said. "Before I was born, my mother left everything she knew and ventured off the safety of her Caribbean island of Jamaica to America on a temporary visa. My mother came to America to have me. She wanted more for me than she would be able to provide for me having stayed in Jamaica. Therefore she sacrificed herself to make it happen."
That was not the last time Northover's mother would do this.
Zara admits she can't remember whether they were poor or rich. She can't remember feeling different than any of her Caucasian childhood counterparts. And she really can't remember ever feeling like she didn't have the things she needed, because she said she always did.
"My mother and I always found a way. Whether it was volleyball equipment I needed, or softball gear, or a basketball uniform, I always had it. Most importantly, what I always had was a guarantee that no matter what I, Zara Northover, wanted to do, I could!"
Throughout her high school and college years, Zara met so many people eager to help her reach her goals as an athlete. In particular, her Sewanhaka High School volleyball coach, Eileen Mallon, who spent extra time training her and working with her each day.
Having seen her potential, others took notice, Northover said, like Tom Amoroso, a Sewanhaka football and men's track coach. Zara said he took it upon himself to spend his time grooming her for track. Starting off as a sprinter and a jumper, Zara one day helped a friend who needed a partner for the shot put relay. With just a few minutes of instruction, she threw 32 feet from a stand. It was that same year Northover won both county and state championships.
During college Northover, who was born in Fort Lauderdale, FL but calls Elmont her hometown, continued to excel, surpassing all expectations. She threw 52 feet 10 inches and qualified instantaneously for the Division 1 Indoor Championships in Arkansas. "I was the youngest person and only freshman to compete that year. During the summer I was ranked second among shot putters 18 and under for both the US team and the Jamaican team," she said.
Although Northover believes she's been blessed her whole life with opportunities that were seemingly planned for her, she has faced some difficulties. Her oldest sister, Devene James, suggested she go back home to Jamaica to re-focus.
She did just that, not knowing that she was about to compete at a national championship meet. In her mind, Zara's trip to Jamaica was about re-inventing herself and getting closer to her father, Winston Northover. "I not only spent my time building a strong relationship with my father; but I also ended up breaking the Jamaican Junior National record and qualifying to compete in the Junior Pan American Games in Barbados, where I took home one of Jamaica's first silver medals in that competition," she said.
Northover is pushing to achieve her goal. She admits that all of the highs and lows in her life, all of her failures and past successes, have put her where she is today.
"If someone were to ask me to describe myself, I would say: I am a dreamer, a person always thinking about the endless possibilities that life has in store for me. I am a believer, someone constantly encouraging others to reach beyond their bounds. Above all, I am always and forever moving in faith," Northover said.
Visit www.zaranorthover.com, a work in progress, to find out more about Olympic hopeful Zara Northover.