Zemora Matthews just likes to be busy.
The Lincoln High School student is someone who is constantly on the go.
“Zamora has incredible energy,” said Pat Robinson, Matthews’ track and field coach at Lincoln. “She just likes to go and go and go. She always wants to do something. She’s just the kind of person who can just keep going. She has the energy to go on and on.”
How much? Well, during the fall months, Matthews is an outside hitter on the Lincoln girls’ volleyball team.
“I’m pretty good,” Matthews says with a laugh.
“She’s a phenomenal volleyball player,” Robinson said.
Matthews is also an accomplished dancer and has wowed audiences at Lincoln talent shows with her dancing ability.
“She is always a mover and a shaker,” Robinson said.
Lately, Matthews has done her moving and shaking on the track, where she has displayed her endless energy and incredible diversity.
Matthews had humble beginnings in the sport, never competing before seventh grade at P.S. 24 in Jersey City.
“My gym teacher, Mr. Steve Leonardo, saw me running real fast in gym,” Matthews said. “He suggested that I run track. He told me to try it out and see if I liked it. Well, I liked it right away.”
Matthews might have never had the chance to show off her track and field prowess if she stayed on the original course in high school.
“I first went to St. Anthony as a freshman, but I transferred to Lincoln as a sophomore,” Matthews said. “That’s when I started running there.”
When she got to Lincoln, the boys’ head coach and local track guru Sal Rizzo suggested that Matthews try out the long jump and triple jump.
“Anything he wanted me to do, I was willing to try,” Matthews said of Rizzo. “He asked me to run the 400 [meter dash], but I didn’t like it. I loved the triple jump. It’s my favorite. It has given me the chance to jump further and longer.”
Last week, Matthews was set to compete in the Hudson County Track Coaches Association outdoor championships at Secaucus High School.
Incredibly, Matthews was entered in four events – the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump and the triple jump. For a kid who likes to stay busy, four events (which is the maximum allowed by the state’s governing body, the NJSIAA) should suffice.
“It does get pretty tough,” Matthews said. “I do stretches to help my lower back, which does get tight.”
In competing in the long jump and triple jump, Matthews is asked to jump 10-to-15 times in order to qualify for the finals. Then, she’s being asked to head to the track and run sprints. It sounds absolutely maddening.
“She’s just a natural athlete,” Robinson said. “She came to us wanting to run and she wants to excel. That made my job much easier.”
But Matthews didn’t worry about being a little tired at the county championships last week.
She won two gold medals, winning the long jump and the triple jump. Her leap of 33-1 in the triple jump set a new meet record. She also finished second in the 100-meter dash and sixth in the 200-meter dash, earning four medals for the meet.
For her efforts, Matthews has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Matthews was asked if she could comprehend being a two-time county champion.
“It’s almost too amazing for words,” Matthews said. “I still can’t believe it. But I worked hard for it and deserve it. Track is my thing. It’s what I love to do most. I never thought I could get to this. I thought that I was just a normal, regular kid.”
Robinson marveled at Matthews’ accomplishments.
“I am absolutely impressed,” Robinson said. “When she first started with us, she was so-so, but the more she stuck with it, the more she liked it. Now, she’s phenomenal. The triple jump is not an easy event, but to do it that well is amazing. She’s just a young woman of much ability. Zemora Matthews is a gift.”
Matthews is determined to continue with the four events. She hopes to clear 35 feet in the triple jump and 18 feet in the long jump.
“Those are my goals,” Matthews said.
Robinson has loftier goals.
“We expect to go to the [NJSIAA] Meet of Champions,” Robinson said. “That’s how good I think she is.”
An excellent student, Matthews is headed to Montclair State University in the fall, where she will major in athletic training while competing in track and field.
“She knows how to use her time wisely,” Robinson said. “She’s on the bus after practices and meets and she’s doing her homework. She’s absolutely just a remarkable kid. I would pay to have three more like her. She’s fantastic.”
“It’s all great,” Matthews said. “I’m very grateful to Mr. Leonardo for introducing me to track. Now, I’m a county champ.”
No, make that a two-time county champ.
“Yes, that’s right,” Matthews admitted. “It’s really amazing.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.