ASTORIA — When Jeshley Jimenez, a 14-year old from Astoria, watches the Olympics on TV, she can’t stop dreaming that she will be one of the athletes representing the U.S. in 2016 in Brazil.
But for now, the slim, shy teen is focusing on another challenge — competing in the Hershey's North American Track & Field Finals, a 35-year-old event which draws almost 500 promising young athletes.
The Pennsylvania competition is the largest youth sports program of its kind in North America, drawing kids aged from 9 to 14 from as far away as Puerto Rico and Canada, and has produced several Olympic medalists, according to the organization's website.
This is the fourth time Jeshley, who has been training with the City Parks Foundation track and field program which provides free sports instruction to hundreds of kids every year, has qualified for the competition.
In her first year at Hershey she participated in the relay competition. This year, she will compete in the standing long jump, as she did for the past two years.
“I’m a little bit nervous,” she said earlier this week. “These past two weeks I’ve been working really hard. My legs were getting really sore.”
She said she is “jumping a solid eight feet” and hopes to jump a few extra inches on Saturday.
“I will jump my heart out,” she added.
Last year the winners in her age range jumped between 8-foot-2 and 8-foot-4, she said.
Jeshley, who lives only a few blocks from Astoria Park, has been practising track and field for the past nine years as part of the City Parks Foundation's program.
She said she started when she was 4-years-old, with the inspiration coming from her parents who are Colombian immigrants who love sports.
Her father, Jesus Jimenez, who works at preparing food at an airport, competed in track and field as a kid and wanted his daughter to try it as well.
Her coach, Nydia Warner, saw her potential and has helped Jeshley develop her talent. She has also started swimming with The Catholic Youth Organization.
The teen, who graduated this year from I.S. 141 and will attend High School of Applied Communication in Long Island City in the fall, said she wants to become a professional athlete.
But she said that even if she doesn't make the Olympics, she has other plans.
“I want to be a veterinarian,” she said. “But I also want to get the idea of track and field going around and get other kids into it.
“Being in sports keeps me from doing stupid things,” she said. “I don’t think about smoking or drinking because I don’t think it would be good for my body.”
Her mother, Fairis Rios, who “loves soccer,” and is now coaching kids as part of the Jessie Owens Program at Randall's Island Park, said she supports her daughter as much as she can.
“When other kids are watching TV or relaxing, she is in practice or competing,” Rios said.
“But I always tell her, "Follow your passion. At the end of the road, you are going to be on top of everybody.”