August 6, 2010 > Logan alum on track to Olympic Games
Logan alum on track to Olympic Games
By Jacob Schabert
When it comes to Nkosinza Balumbu, a five-time All American; three-time all region; five-time South Eastern Conference champion; national champion in the triple jump in 2008; and aspiring Olympic hopeful, the first thing that comes out of the mouth of his former coaches have nothing to do with his performance on the track, but rather his character off of it.
"He is one of my favorite people. He puts in serious effort, a great attitude and demeanor; not everybody is like that. He's the type of person you root for," said Balumbu's former jump coach at the University of Arkansas Dick Booth. "I've coached for over 40 years and he's one of my favorite athletes that I have ever coached."
That says a lot coming from a coach who has seen his program win 40 national championships in indoor track, outdoor track and cross country -- an unprecedented number of championships for one of the country's finest programs.
For Balumbu, a graduate of James Logan High School in Union City, the journey to the University of Arkansas did not come easy.
"Growing up, guys used to hear my distances, and see me on paper, how far I jumped, and would come to track meet and look for this Balumbu guy," said Balumbu. "But they would always overlook me, not thinking it was the small skinny guy that was jumping far, and think it was another one of my teammates who was bigger and stronger."
At 5-foot-10, 140 pounds, he may not look the part of a champion, but sometimes having the heart of a champion is even more important.
Overcoming obstacles has always been something Nkosinza has thrived to do. Being the youngest of 11 children, Balumbu has always been a family-oriented person. His world took a big crash during his freshman year of high school when his father passed away after suffering through illness for many years.
"When I played football at a young age, my dad was one of those guys that was always there at practice," said Balumbu. "As a kid you kind of don't want your dad there because you feel like somebody is always watching you; he was one of a handful of parents that was there everyday.
"But I think that shaped me to become the athlete that I became," Balumbu added. "Because when you know your dad's eyes are on you every play, you don't want to make a mistake, so you're very focused on becoming successful."
Unfortunately, Balumbu's father never got to see his son play in high school due to his illness.
"I really wanted him there, because that was when I started to hit my stride in sports," Balumbu said of his late father Bal. "My dad is the number one reason I am successful."
During his time at James Logan, Nkosina was coached by Lee Webb, who has been with Logan's track and field program since 1984. Under Webb's tutelage, Balumbu was named Nike Athlete of the Year at Logan, as well as being track and field news All American, a USA today All USA track and field team member, and held the nations top prep triple jump mark for the entire season during his senior year of 2005.
Balumbu attributes a lot of his ability to the coaching and guidance of his coach.
"It all starts with Lee Webb. He pretty much puts his life into track and field, and you don't find that very often in high school," said Balumbu. "He goes above and beyond for the success of the kids. He wants to see kids get into college, and see them get scholarships. I was fortunate enough to have him as a leader to get me where I needed to get in high school and put me in the right direction."
During his time as a Razorback, Balumbu did more than his share when it came to stocking the trophy case. Balumbu placed fifth in the National Championships his freshman year with a mark of 53 feet, 2.25 inches at the triple jump, while also gaining his season-best distance in the long jump at 22 feet, 5.75 inches. He improved every year after that.
In his sophomore year, he won his first SEC indoor triple jump title, being the only Razorback to win an individual title. During the 2008 campaign, Balumbu set personal bests in both long and triple jumps en route to winning his first NCAA triple jump title, which he claims is his finest achievement to date. During the Olympic trials that season, Balumbu was hampered by an injured foot and placed 20th.
"Injuries have hampered his progress," said Booth. "If he can stay healthy, the sky's the limit."
Balumbu's jump is not quite on par with his hop and step according to Booth. As of today, the Union City native says he is trying to rest his injuries and hopefully be 100 percent soon.
Should Balumbu qualify for the Olympic Games, he would become the fourth athlete out of James Logan to become an Olympian. Right now, Balumbu is around the 55-foot mark in the triple jump, and would like to improve about two feet and be consistently around the 57-foot mark to truly feel like he has a chance to be competitive in London in 2012.
"There are a lot of areas where I can get faster and stronger; where I can improve," said Balumbu. "There is still work to be done."
Balumbu continues to train with his high school jump coach Dooney Jones. For Balumbu, who maintains the aspirations of getting to the Olympics in 2012, the journey has just begun.