MULTI-SPORT athlete Tyra Gittens has set her sights on becoming TT’s second female to qualify for the Olympic Games in the heptathlon.
A heptathlon is a combination of seven track and field events which comprises 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m sprint, long jump, javelin throw and 800m.
The 22-year-old currently plies her trade at Texas A&M University and is pursuing a major in Leadership and Development and a minor in Communications and Sport Management while balancing hectic and time-consuming training schedules.
Gittens spent the majority of her life in the US but is driven to represent the red, white and black at the highest competitive level.
However, her Olympic qualification standard of 6,420 points must be achieved when the outdoor season resumes in the US, pending covid19, in March/April. These points must be accumulated or surpassed at one meet to confirm qualification.
In 2018, Gittens fell just short of her Olympic target by completing the season with her personal best of 6,312 points. Although she was not particularly chasing Tokyo qualification back then, the track and field athlete intends to go all out when the outdoor season fires off.
According to her coaches, if the outdoor season is unable to resume owing to the pandemic, Gitten’s point tally from competing on the indoor track and field pentathlon circuit would serve as a gauge towards her Tokyo qualification.
A track and field pentathlon is an event that requires athletes to participate in five different track and field events, with the winner being determined by totalling the points across all events.
During the indoor season, Gittens competes in the women’s shot put throw, 60m hurdles, 800m race, high jump and long jump.
“When the outdoor season begins, I would do three heptathlons and could qualify at any time during them. With covid19 nothing is promised. If there’s no outdoor season, they will use people’s indoor scores and assess where you may be progressing to. Right now it’s looking promising.
“I could qualify even if I did not have an outdoor season as a collegiate athlete. As of right now, where I’m headed and where my score is now, I should more than qualify for the Olympics. It’s a reality I’m looking at once I stay healthy and continue to train as I am,” she said.
Since the pandemic hit in mid-March last year, Gittens was forced to stop competing but capitalised on the downtime to reassess and reevaluate her mental and physical strengths and weaknesses.
With the resumption of collegiate competition, in 2021, she has been churning out improved scores in the majority of her events.
Last month, Gittens had an impressive season opener when she bagged double-gold at the Ted Nelson Invitational in Texas. She set the school’s long jump record by leaping 6.62m on her first attempt and then claimed her second title in the high jump with a clearance of 1.83m.
“I was able to conquer my fear of failure. I pushed myself to very uncomfortable feelings. Feelings that are similar to what I feel during the 800m and I was able to have a breakthrough.
“I only focused on the things that I was bad at, which was the 800m and javelin. Because I was able to focus on those two alone I am now more confident all around. It was an opportunity for me to pause and restart Tyra Gittens.” she said.
Her love for track, however, came from her father Sterling Gittens, a former national sprinter and now US-based gospel singer/producer. The older Gittens introduced his daughter to 100m and 200m events when she arrived in the US over a decade ago.
She appreciated track but also had a passion for almost all other field sports. At Ensworth High School in Nashville, Gittens’ coach opted to sign her to participate in multiple individual events. She dominated and quickly transitioned to a multi-sport athlete.
“I was meant to be a jumper. When I was younger I wanted to sign up for all the events (during competition). My coach then asked if I would do the heptathlon. The 800m was a bit demotivating but once I did it I didn’t stop.
“I was born to do seven events. It fits my personality. I value being able to adapt to situations. To be a multi-sport athlete you have to be able to adapt to anything thrown at you.
“You’re not just specialising in one event but trying to master seven. Changing your mindset to play and fit each role without stressing yourself out is key,” she added.
Gittens represented TT at the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Games, Carifta Games and Pan American Games. She was unable to medal at any of these meets but has since grown as an athlete.
She believes dwelling on poor performances hampers the potential of succeeding in another. Adapting, she says, is key to the success of a multi-sport athlete. Training for seven events, however, is a big ask, but welcomed.
“It’s a lot of work and time consuming. Because I train for seven events, my training is split up in days. One day I would either do a running workout or general strength. The next day would be long and high jump approaches. We train how the heptathlon is set up.
“I’m out there (training) from noon to 5.30pm. Because I work on different events every day, I don’t get bored and my body isn’t using the same muscles over and over. Our (Texas A&M) jump squad trains like ‘multis’ (multi-sport athletes). We are high maintenance but we don’t break easily because of how we train,” said Gittens.
The national record holder returns to competition over the weekend in the Southeastern Conference for Texas A&M. She then winds down her indoor season with the National Indoor Championships before the start of a possible Olympic-bound outdoor season.
She concluded, “I’ve really succeeded in my high jump and long jump so early in the season. Based off the 60m hurdles alone I should be able to reach my 100m hurdles mark. I’ve already crossed those off the list. Right now all I can do is just need to continue to train.
“I want to leave a legacy. I came from a family of seven. We each have our own talents. To my own legacy as a Gittens, but as Tyra Gittens, that’s what I want. To leave a name for my family, kids and country.”