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Leon Hunt’s long journey ends with gold

Leon Hunt of the Virgin Islands strains for height in the long jump.
Leon Hunt of the Virgin Islands strains for height in the long jump. For the Miami Herald

The Northwest Express Track & Field Classic entails 5- and 6-year olds running their hearts out, which often ends in big smiles or big tears. On the opposite side, it also entails 50 to 70-year-olds competing just for the fun of still being able to compete and recalling their glory days.

Somewhere between those two scenarios and those two age groups are some serious world class efforts going on.

Leon Hunt, 28, is one of those world-class athletes who wants to expand his impact on the track world.

However, it has been a long journey of many miles getting to the point he is at today, including leaving his native Virgin Islands to come to the U.S.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs along the way,” he said.

And, since he’s a long jumper, incurring ups and downs seem to make perfect sense.

Hunt, who has already qualified for the Pan American Games in late July, reasserted his abilities Sunday on the closing day of the 40th annual Northwest Classic by winning the men’s open division long jump with a leap of 7.66 meters (25 feet 1½ inches) at the Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar.

Hunt, an honor student, and his family moved from the Virgin Islands to the U.S. when he was 13.

“We decided it would be a better living situation and I wanted to go to college here,” he said.

He certainly accomplished the college part of that plan by earning an MBA in marketing and now working as an assistant track coach at Cornell. And he gave himself a nice variety of colleges along the way to Cornell by attending Virginia State University in Petersburg, Va., Florida A&M and Strayer College in Washington, D.C., before latching onto the coaching spot at Cornell, where he works with the women in the long jump and triple jump.

“Sometimes it takes time to find your place,” he said with a smile as he talked of the plethora of colleges he attended.

Of course, his current place at Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., has been a bit of a shock. “Not easy going from 80 degrees every day of the year in the Virgin Islands to minus-9,” he rightfully concluded.

Hunt, who competed for the Virgin Islands’ Hounds & Foxes club on Sunday, was a late starter in track and field, beginning when he was 10 and after devoting most of his earlier athletic time to basketball, marbles and bicycling.

Early on, his coach — Virgin Islands head Olympic track coach Charles Golphin — had him competing inthe long jump, high jump, triple jump, 110 hurdles, 400 hurdles, 400 relay and 1,600 relay.

“One time I told him I was going to need him to do the pole vault,” Golphin said, laughing. That never did happen, and Hunt can now concentrate on the long jump.

Many of the Virgin Islands’ top track and field athletes train at Cornell, and for good reason. Back in the Virgin Islands there is only one track and “everybody uses it,” according to Hunt.

Golphin added that the track back home is 15 years old “. . . and it has never been resurfaced yet.”

With that said, Hunt looked around and admired the facility he was competing at Sunday. He also was appreciative of the broad appeal of the Northwest Express meet with more than 2,000 competitors.

“There are a lot of little kids running around and competing here and that’s good,” Hunt said. “They work hard just like I had to do and maybe I can teach them something.”

Then, after pausing, Hunt added, “And you know, I can probably learn something from them and how they compete and care.”

With Sunday’s closing out of the 40th Northwest Classic, the site of next year’s meet has not been determined. There hasn’t been much time to think much about next year for meet director Jesse Holt as he was trying to bring some organization to the 2,000-person meet the past three days.

“The competition this year was possibly the best we have ever assembled,” Holt said.

As for next year’s site — Traz Powell Stadium, where it was held for the first 39 years, or the Ansin Complex used this year — Holt said he will be talking to officials at both venues. “We like both of them,” he said.

Holt mentioned there have been suggestions of alternating the two sites.

“We will just have to wait and see,” he said.

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