March 11, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Jeannelle Scheper is way ahead of the field. The decorated senior high jumper for South Carolina's track and field team was only 16 years old when she came from her home in Saint Lucia to compete for the Gamecocks in January 2011. Showing a maturity beyond her years, she has consistently been a champion on the field and in the classroom, and hopes to represent her country in the 2016 Olympic Games.
"I was just so excited," Scheper said of her initial recruitment. "In the Caribbean there is this perception that America is the land of opportunity. I was nervous about leaving home, but it was exciting. My mom was really apprehensive about sending me to school, but she knew this was a great opportunity. Luckily I had lived in a lot of different places and somewhere along the way I was skipped up a grade in school. So my friends were already a year or two older than me, and coming here wasn't that much different."
Born in Jamaica, Scheper has lived in Saint Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, and Belize as her father's work often took them to new places. After finishing school a year early, using her athletic ability to earn a scholarship was the key to unlocking her future potential.
"At home there's not really a whole lot of opportunity after you get done with high school," Scheper said. "You can go to community college, but that's about it. We don't have a university. I really wanted to leave, and South Carolina was the only one recruiting me at the time. I was really young, so not a lot of schools were interested in me."
"The transition coming into college is already difficult," South Carolina head coach Curtis Frye said. "A typical 16 year old may have some physical maturity, but they may not have had the chance to develop the emotional maturity. To manage that environment and to come from a small place like Saint Lucia to America at 16, her parents had to really trust that we would mentor her and `mother and father' her. My hat's off to the people who work here. She keeps her grades up. Our staff helped get her to this point, but it's a joy to have somebody who does it right as a competitor and a student."
Scheper is a five-time All-America, two-time silver medalist in the NCAA indoor high jump, the 2013 SEC indoor high jump champion, and a three-time All-SEC selection. She was the inaugural female recipient of the Hammer Strength All-American Award. Just as strong academically, Scheper has been on the SEC Spring Academic Honor roll each of the last three years and was the 2014 recipient of the University of South Carolina President's Award, which is the highest honor given to a student-athlete.
Scheper gives her parents, Gerrit and Sheryl, credit for her dedication and work ethic.
"Coming from a developing country to a place like this where you have great facilities and things available to you, you feel like you had better take advantage of it," Scheper said.
"She's the student-athlete every coach would want to have, and the daughter every mother would want to have. She's very determined and understands that every day matters for her future and her goals."
Most athletes would feel pretty good about taking home the silver medal two years in a row at the NCAA indoor competition, but Scheper wants more.
"The first year that I won the silver it was huge because I finished right behind U.S. Olympian, Brigetta Barrett (silver medalist in 2012 Olympics)," Scheper said. "That was just crazy to be competing next to her. Last year it wasn't as great. She (Barrett) had left, and I wanted to win. It was disappointing, but still a good place to be."
That disappointment would subside when she qualified for the World Championships in Russia last year, which is only one step down from the Olympics.
"I made up my mind that I could go to Worlds," Scheper said. "I mean, what's stopping me? This is a big deal. I kind of surprised myself. It was awesome to imagine myself being there."
That success isn't all that surprising though. Last year she won and either set or matched her own meet or facility record at all four regular season meets of the season. For all of her achievements, Scheper is quick to praise her coaches, including her event coach, Delethea Quarles.
"Coach D is just so easy to work with," Scheper said. "We've built an amazing relationship. If you have the talent and want to develop your skills, that relationship is absolutely crucial to get there."
Quarles has seen a lot of outstanding student-athletes in her 25 years of coaching, including 18 years at South Carolina. Quarles said Scheper tries to be the very best at everything she does, whether it's in her event or in the classroom.
"She's the student-athlete every coach would want to have, and the daughter every mother would want to have," Quarles said. "She's very determined and understands that every day matters for her future and her goals. She is also very meticulous and hardworking to receive A's in her classwork. She surrounds herself around the right people who motivate her to stay on task."
Coming to a new country at a young age, Scheper has enjoyed the perks of competing in a major conference such as the SEC.
"Here we have a nice track," Scheper said. "I immediately got new running shoes and other gear as part of the team. It was just a huge step up."
Adapting to the southern culture took a little getting used to however, especially when it came to food.
"In the Caribbean, we like our spices, and we eat a lot of fish," Scheper said. "The food is really fresh at home. I enjoy cooking. If I didn't run track, I'd like to have gone to culinary school. I would like to open a restaurant with my dad."
Off the field, Scheper is studying mathematics and economics with a minor in Spanish and will graduate in May. She was recently recruited into the master's program for economics. In addition to juggling training, competitions and other commitments along with her class schedule, Scheper, who is a team captain this year, is also a member of South Carolina's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAC).
"SAC has a lot of power and influence," Scheper said. "The administration listens to a lot of the things we have to say. It's very interesting to be a part of that group so you can have an influence on what happens to student-athletes."
Her entrenchment into the university community doesn't stop there. She has also been working on gardening projects and "green" initiatives at the West Quad gardens on campus.
"I'm really into sustainable development," Scheper explained. "That's another aspect of what I'm studying. This garden project is my first try at it. It's basically getting the student-athletes to work in the community garden. I'd like to get a program together with kids from local schools to come work and teach them about fresh healthy foods."
As she competes in her final season of outdoor events at South Carolina, Scheper hopes to keep adding to her already impressive resume.
"This year my goal is to win outdoor nationals and to win the SEC," Scheper said. "That would be the perfect ending to my career here. From there I'd like to qualify for the World Championships this summer in Beijing."
From there she hopes to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Some track and field athletes can make a living at strictly being a competitor if they are fortunate enough to have lucrative endorsement deals or maybe even a modeling career. While she would love it if her full time job was to be a high jump, she's is more realistic and also intends to put her college degree to work for herself and take those skills she learned in the classroom back home to Saint Lucia.
"There is a need for people in the field of economics in my country," Scheper said. "So if I could do anything to help there - perhaps working for the government or helping in the financial sector - that would be great. It's a developing country, so there is a lot to be done. If I could just high jump, that would be the ideal job, but I have to be realistic. You have to build things around your athletic career."
Now that she is a seasoned 20 year old, she feels that being at the University of South Carolina has prepared her for whatever comes next.
"Being at South Carolina has developed my work ethic and helped me learn what it takes to be great," Scheper said. "It doesn't just happen. It takes hours. I've learned a lot leadership skills. It's a mindset of how you need to carry yourself and how you should treat people."
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