Temple Universitys track is an unlikely home for one of the best long jumpers in the United States.
Squeezed between North 15th and North 16th streets and between West Norris Street and West Montgomery Avenue, its 400 meters of rocks, wind-blown garbage, broken glass and other miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam.
You never know what youre going to see or whats going to happen, Shameka Marshall said with a laugh. You might be warming up and have to dodge a woman pushing a stroller. Or some random person might just walk up to you in the middle of practice and start talking to you. Its always an adventure.
Marshall, a South Jersey native now in her third year as an assistant track coach at Temple, is in Eugene, Ore., this week for the United States Olympic Track and Field Trials. Shes one of the top seeds in the long jump and with a finish among the top three will represent the U.S. in the Olympics later this summer in London.
The Trials began Thursday at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. Long jump qualifying is Friday, June 29, and the finals are a week from Sunday, the final day of the 10-day event.
Marshall, silver medalist in last years Pan Am Games in Mexico, said practicing at Temples unique facility is actually an advantage for her since its taught her to deal with any unexpected issue that may arise while shes competing.
It teaches you how to deal with distractions, she said. You learn to embrace it instead of fighting it. Now, whatever happens during a meet, whatever distraction might come up -- and theres always something coming up -- you feel like, Hey, I can deal with this.
Marshall grew up in tiny Quinton Township in Salem County and graduated in 2001 from Oakcrest High School, where she won the New Jersey Meet of Champions titles in both the long jump and triple jump as a senior.
She was a two-time All-America at Rutgers, where she set seven school records (including relays), was runner-up in the long jump in the indoor NCAAs as a senior, ranked among the top-10 U.S. women twice and enjoyed success in the sprints and hurdles as well as the horizontal jumps.
Her first couple years after college were tough, as she adjusted to training on her own and post-scholarship life. But in 2010, she blossomed, surpassing the 22-foot barrier for the first time at USATF nationals in Des Moines, where she placed fourth at 22-1 12.
She started coaching at Temple in 2010 and thats also when Temple mens coach Eric Mobley, a Central High graduate and star sprinter and jumper at La Salle in the early 1990s, began coaching her.
Marshall, 28, is ranked No. 8 among all U.S. women going into the Trials with a season-best 21-9, but other than World No. 1 Brittney Reese, the only 23-footer in the field, the event is wide open.
I feel really good, really confident going in, Marshall said. Ive had a good year so far, Ive been consistent, and I feel really good about where I am. Ive been focusing in practice on some smaller technical points -- small points that can throw you off in a big way -- and I just feel really ready right now. Im really excited to get going.
Whenever Marshall is finished with track, she has another career waiting to get started.
She comes from a musical family -- dad plays the bass, mom sings -- and shes been singing since she was 4 years old. She majored in music at Rutgers, writes and sings her own songs and hopes to record her music once she has the time.
I do it for fun, but Im also serious about it, she said. I would love to get into the studio and record it. I just want to share it.
But first, theres an Olympic team to make.
Marshall competed at the 2004 Trials in Sacramento and jumped 20-1 12, which didnt get her into the finals. At the 2008 Trials in Eugene, she went 21-0 in the trials and then sailed 21-6 in the final, good for seventh overall. She missed an Olympic berth by an agonizing 6 12 inches.
Shes ready for big things.
The 2004 Trials, I was so young, and I basically was just in awe of Marion Jones, she said. In 2008, that was a great experience for me, making the finals.
Having been through it twice, I feel like Im really ready for it. Im just going to go out there and have fun. Its so important in a meet like this to be able to relax. You cant jump far if youre nervous or tight.
Im ready. At any moment, Im ready to jump huge.
Other Philly Athletes to Watch at the Trials:
Brian Chaput (Penn) - Veteran javelin specialist is still going strong after three Tommy John surgeries. Chaput has a seasons best of 249-5 and a PR of 263-11.
Bobby Curtis (Villanova) - Curtis is the No. 2 seed in the 10,000-meter run at 27:24.67, the No. 7 mark in U.S. history.
Greta Feldman (Haddonfield, N.J.) - Princeton sophomore had a breakout year, running 2:03.65 for 800 meters and 4:12.78 for 1,500 meters. Shell race the 1,500 in Eugene.
English Gardner (Voorhees, N.J.) - The three-time NCAA champion out of Eastern Regional High is No. 5 seed in the womens 100-meter dash just three years after ACL and MCL surgery.
Ryann Krais (Norristown) - Methacton High graduate, now at Kansas State, is a former World Junior champion in the heptathlon and a legit medal contender in the two-day multi-event.
Nicole Leach (Philadelphia) - Former Penn Relays star for West Catholic and UCLA graduate has run 55.37 this year and has a great chance to reach the 400 intermediates final.
Travis Mahoney (Temple) - Owls All-America from Old Bridge, N.J., has run 8:36.10 for the steeplechase and is coming off a fifth-place finish at NCAAs.
Reuben McCoy (Atco, N.J.) - Schoolboy star at Winslow Township and All-America at Auburn is one of 14 sub-50 400-meter intermediate hurdles in the field. McCoys season best is 49.83.
Rob Novak (Bordentown) - Former schoolboy national champion PRd this spring at 1:46.01 and will race the 800.
Chanelle Price (Easton, Pa.) - Tennessees nine-time All-America will run the 800. Shes run 2:01.49 this year.
Maalik Reynolds (Penn) - Two-time NCAA high jump All-America has cleared a personal-best 7-4 34 this spring.
Jen Rhines (Villanova) - Former Wildcat star is No. 4 seed in the womens 5,000 at 15:10.44.
Latavia Thomas (Philadelphia) - Another West Catholic grad, Thomas, a 12-time All-America at LSU, has a 1:59.67 to her credit this year, which makes her No. 7 seed in the 800.
Shericka Ward (Villanova) - Villanova senior is a three-time All-America in the high hurdles and has a PR of 12.97.
E-mail Reuben Frank at email@example.com