Seventeen feet and six inches. Such a distance may not mean much to many, but it's everything these days for North Medford long jumper Emily Carlson.
That number has been the standard of excellence hanging over Carlson's head ever since she was a freshman performer for the Black Tornado track and field team, and she's just about had enough of it.
Back in 2005, Irene Kendig soared 17-6 in the long jump to set the school standard. As much as Carlson respects her predecessor and routinely talks with head coach Piet Voskes about how she was able to accomplish that feat, the 17-year-old senior has high hopes of rewriting history this spring. She barely scratched on a recent jump of 18-3, and hovers in the 17-foot range at practice.
"I'm going to break that record," says Carlson. "I'm really close. There's a couple form things I need to work on, but I've got the speed and I'm a lot stronger than I have been in years past. I want it really bad. Pretty much the goal for my entire career is breaking that record."
If she sounds a little preoccupied by that pursuit, it's for good reason. Carlson seemingly was on pace to eclipse Kendig's mark during her junior campaign but that was almost entirely wiped out by a broken foot suffered prior to the 2012 season.
As a sophomore, Carlson set a meet record at the Bob Newland Classic by winning the long jump with a leap of 16-10. She later duplicated that effort to go with a pair of 16-91/4 outings to send her into the offseason confident that she was on the verge of reaching Kendig's status.
That optimism was lost five months later when Carlson learned that she had suffered a stress fracture in her left foot during her junior volleyball season. The 5-foot-9 outside hitter unknowingly played with the broken foot during the season and only learned of the extent of her injury during postseason X-rays.
Instead of going into winter workouts for track, Carlson found herself on crutches for a month and then in a walking boot for another eight weeks armed only with the knowledge that, at best, she might be able to compete at the end of the track season.
"It was definitely a humbling experience because it just made me realize how valuable a gift it is to just be able to walk on a daily basis," she says. "Getting out of the boot, everything just got so much easier."
Her recovery period was slow and steady as Carlson underwent physical therapy three times a week and used low-impact workouts in a pool to restore confidence and strength in her left foot.
Carlson was able to return, albeit in limited capacity, for the end of the 2012 track season but her results were far from the ones she was used to. Nearly a second slower in the 100 meters, two feet shorter in the long jump until a 16-4 at districts and not as much kick to anchor the 400-meter relay.
"I wasn't at full strength, obviously, but it still made a huge difference for me to be out there," says Carlson, who jumps off her right foot. "Being able to be back on the track was just amazing."
Voskes says that late-season effort served as a springboard to better things in 2013.
"The train came off the tracks there for a little bit and I think she questioned her future in track," he says, "but once she jumped back in and got her body healthy, you could see that she was confident again and ready for more."
Carlson says she finally felt fully healthy at the beginning of the volleyball season and earned first-team all-Southern Oregon Hybrid honors in the process.
"That's when I knew I had gotten back to my full potential and that this was going to be my year," says Carlson, who carries a 3.7 grade-point average. "As soon as I was done with volleyball, I was really itching to get back on the track. I got right into winter workouts and I just knew that this was it, this is the last chance I've got. I just want to leave it all out there now; I don't want to waste another season."
As much as that's where Carlson's mindset is these days, Voskes and company are taking a more cautious approach. She won't build up to her full workload of the 100, 200, 400 relay and long jump for another two weeks or so, and Carlson is intentionally not taking her full six jumps at this point.
"She's chomping at the bit to get going," says Voskes. "At the same time, a good performance now is very nice but the key is six weeks away (at the district and state meets) and she understands that."
Carlson was a district champion in the long jump when she was an eighth grader at Hedrick Middle School, reaching 14-91/2 at one point in an event that comes natural to her. Carlson's father, Rob, competed in the long jump and triple jump in high school and has helped her mature in the event through the years.
"She has all the physical traits with great speed and great levers coming off the board," says Voskes, "and she thrives when she gets to compete. She loves a challenge."
Carlson also seems to show up best in the marquee events. Besides owning the meet record in the Newland Classic, she established a top mark at the Medford Rotary Relays this past Saturday when she sailed 16-61/2.
"The bigger the meet, the bigger the opportunity, the bigger she's performed," says Voskes, noting Carlson was part of North's 400 relay team that placed sixth at state when she was a freshman. "She's unusual in that regard."
While her ultimate goal is that long jump record, Carlson isn't letting a day of her senior year go by without trying to leave an imprint on the program that has supported her over the years. She says she's taking a cue from ex-teammate Baylee Hearns, who was a key senior teammate in 2010.
"I liked her leadership style and the way she just kinda owned the track without saying anything," says Carlson. "She led by example so I really try to do my best to be humble and lead by example and help the younger girls to not be nervous."
And, of course, to chase lofty goals.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry