By Vince Echavaria
Courtney Corrin captured virtually every major title a high school long jumper could hope to achieve this season — and that was just her first year.
Corrin, 15, a Harvard-Westlake School freshman who has grown up in Playa Vista, has leaped to distances no other high school girl her age has ever reached – marks that most boys her age would brag about.
Jumping at the renowned Mt. SAC Relays this spring, she set the all-time girls freshman class record in the long jump at 20-feet-11.
That feat was followed by a California Interscholastic Federation State Championship with a mark of 20-feet-9 and ¼ inches and a national championship at the New Balance National Outdoor meet in Greensboro, NC, where she edged out the second-place finisher by an inch with a jump of 20-feet-7 and ¼ inches.
And Corrin’s record season is still going. The track athlete, who also runs in the 200 and 400 meter races, finally attained her goal of breaking the 21-foot barrier June 25 at the World Youth Trials in Illinois, breaking her own freshman class record and setting a new meet record as well.
Corrin hopes her victory will qualify her for a spot on the U.S. team at the World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine July 10-14.
While she came out on top at nationals as only a freshman, Corrin felt privileged to be able to test out her skills against other elite prep athletes from across the country.
“I think it’s amazing and also an honor because they’re just as good and they compete and train just as hard as you,” Corrin said of participating at the national stage. “I think it’s always good to have that competition, especially at a young age, because it kind of teaches you how great everyone else is and to make sure you stay humble and train even harder.”
As for becoming the all-time freshman record holder in an event made popular by legendary athletes like Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis, Corrin described it as a “great feeling.” But she couldn’t help but point out that it was an earlier jump well below her standard that motivated her to soar to the gigantic mark in the sand.
Many an athlete would take pride in attaining the level of success Corrin has already seen in one sport, but the teenager is also a standout in soccer, playing forward on the high school and club teams. Corrin, who has played soccer since age 4, doesn’t pick a favorite between the two sports as she likes both the individual aspect of track and field and the team chemistry that soccer provides. Much of her enthusiasm for either sport “depends on the season,” she says.
“Track is an individual sport mostly… and you can get big-headed in a way, but soccer keeps you mellow because you can’t do all the work,” she said. “I think (soccer) is a great sport and I have a lot of respect for it.”
At one time, Corrin also excelled at gymnastics, achieving all-American status, and her family was encouraged to move to Texas so she could learn under legendary coach Bella Karolyi. Her father instead chose to keep the family in Southern California, a decision he is fully confident in, as it has allowed Courtney’s siblings to also make their marks in sports.
Corrin is not the only talented athlete in her family. Her father, Michael, competed in the long jump at the University of California-Irvine and her mother, a fitness trainer, went to Grambling State University on a tennis scholarship. Courtney’s older sister, Kennedy, 17, used to run track and now plays varsity soccer, while their younger brother, Mikey, 13, was a national long jump champion at his age group in 2010 and also plays football and ice hockey.
Michael Corrin, an assistant director at the business and job resources center at Los Angeles World Airports, has been thrilled to see Courtney achieve such noteworthy accomplishments and credits her focus and dedicated work ethic. “To watch her excel in both track and field and soccer, and especially at an event that I used to do, it’s a lot of fun and joyous,” he said. “Courtney is special in that she works real hard but she has fun at the same time and doesn’t take herself too seriously. But when she gets on the soccer field or on the track she takes care of business.”
Corrin, who works with his daughter on her long jump skill, believes her level of success at an early age is in part due to her being a fast learner and someone with “natural instincts” who works hard, has a good attitude and stays humble.
Corrin’s head track coach at Harvard-Westlake, Jonas Koolsbergen, agrees, saying it has been a tremendous thrill to have an athlete of her tremendous ability and accomplishment as part of the school’s program.
“Courtney is unusually experienced for such a young athlete. She has been in tough spots and is not afraid to compete against excellent opponents,” said Koolsbergen, who has coached two other national champions. “She obviously possesses tremendous physical skills, but she also brings exceptional drive and dedication to her work. Talent is often wasted. Courtney’s gifts go far beyond the speed and natural jumping ability.”
After having fallen behind in the national meet, where she had the country’s top mark coming in, Corrin displayed focus and poise to overtake the lead for the victory, Koolsbergen noted. It was a proud moment for her father. “It was one of those moments that I was very happy as a parent just to see how she put in the work and it worked out for her,” he said.
For the younger Corrin, jumping to far out distances in the sand pit is not just about adding critical inches but about having fun and letting things happen naturally. “I just love the feeling of being out there,” said Corrin, who believes the height she reaches during her jumps helps her to soar to such distances.
Although Corrin is committed to long, busy seasons in both her sports, she still makes time to play oboe in the school band. She began playing music on the piano and has also played the saxophone, but the oboe is different and interesting, she says. Like sports, band playing can be competitive, but it has an academic focus that offers a nice break from the athletic field, Corrin says. “It’s just a great way to relax in a stress-free environment,” she said.
While the Corrin youngsters are busy making headlines in their sports, Courtney notes that they keep their academics a priority, adding that athletic careers can be short-lived for many athletes due to injury or other circumstances and they need to have a good education to fall back on.
Trying to balance a promising sports future while doing well in school can leave one with minimal free time, but Corrin relishes putting her energy in different places.
One side activity she takes passion in is painting her nails with different designs including the Chinese symbols for “happiness and passion,” and the number 20 for the barrier she first crossed this season in the long jump. The nails give her inspiration, she explains, though her father jokes that he “had no idea” about her hobby.
When she is not out on the track or soccer field, she is planning to take the PSATs and keep working toward good grades, steps that she hopes will lead her to be able to take part in both soccer and track in college.
Ultimately, she dreams of competing in the Olympics, the major stage for track and field, and also making the women’s World Cup soccer team.
Her record-breaking mark as a freshman has put her in strong position to challenge the girls’ national high school long jump record of 22-feet-3 inches. But with three years still remaining in high school, Corrin is not trying to jump ahead too far in her life and just wants to enjoy the flight.
“I have to learn to take a break and step away, which is good, but right now I’m just having fun,” she said.