Adela Kalilwa, a Lewiston High School graduate, will compete in the triple jump for the University of Southern Maine at the NCAA Division III indoor track and field championships in Alabama this weekend. (Jason Johns photo)
Growing up in a family of soccer players, track was just something for Adela Kalilwa to do during the offseason.
Kalilwa never thought that she’d be heading to a national championship for triple jump as a member of the University of Southern Maine indoor track and field team, as she is this week.
Before her junior year at Lewiston High School, Paul Soracco was hired as the head track and field coach. That’s when Kalilwa’s perspective on track changed — for the better.
“Junior year, we got a new coach that was hired, and I think him and I had a great relationship,” Kalilwa said. “He saw something in me and I became more of a serious athlete than I was freshman and sophomore year.”
From then on, Kalilwa blossomed on the track and in the pits.
Kalilwa was decent at sprinting and jumping, but she wasn’t sure at which events she was best.
“In my high school career, jumping was never a serious event for me until I got a school record my junior year,” Kalilwa said. “Senior year, I broke the Class A long jump state record (18 feet, 3.75 inches).”
Her jump in distance, as well as her growth as an athlete, were equally large, and propelled her into the New England championships multiple times in high school. Kalilwa took her talents to USM and soon found that jumping was her calling, albeit by accident. The realization came during a meet at Embry-Riddle University in Florida during USM’s spring trip to the sunshine state.
“I thought that maybe if I competed like I wanted to go to nationals, I would do better,” Kalilwa said. “In outdoor, we took a trip to Florida. It was our second meet in Florida and I jumped almost 39 feet (in the triple jump), and my coach told me that was nationals length and I said, ‘Good news.’”
The official triple jump distance at the Embry-Riddle meet was 38 feet, 7.5 inches, enough to qualify Kalilwa for nationals as a college freshman. Nationals was never the goal for Kalilwa, though, when she entered college.
“I didn’t have any idea about it, just starting indoor, I was just going to see how I would end up in the season,” Kalilwa said. “Coming from high school, I just never cared about nationals, I had never heard about it.”
Her first trip to outdoor nationals in Geneva, Ohio, was not to Kalilwa’s standards. While she tied her qualifying jump distance, the freshman missed the finals. This season, Kalilwa has started a lifting regimen with USM’s strength and conditioning coach, Jim Giroux.
“As a freshman I was OK as an athlete and didn’t care much about lifting,” Kalilwa said. “We have a program here at USM and I get helped out with lifting. Jim and I take it more serious now with lifting, it’s part of my everyday. You dont lift to lift, it’s scheduled and you lift certain ways. It’s different from being alone than with someone that will help you with the process.”
Spending hours in the weight room has helped Kalilwa tremendously, as has her work with coach George Towle.
“It’s just enabled her to put more force in the track and makes her faster,” Towle said. “She’s more confident in the weight room and it seems like she wants to go. She’s kind of taken it upon herself now.”
“They’re not just coaches, they’re family,” Kalilwa said. “They won’t just tell you what to do, they’ll hear your opinion. George has been great for me. He’s more than a coach, he wants to make sure you’re doing good academically and not just in track.”
Help from coaches has shaped Kalilwa into the athlete she is today, going back to Lewiston and Soracco.
“She’s becoming more well-rounded as an athlete,” Towle said. “It’s been a process, but the process started when she was at Lewiston High School. I used to go to see some of her meets and it’s quite a job the track staff did because she would get emotional about losing, but they helped her a lot. She was a very mature athlete when she arrived in college, she’s more focused on what she wants to do.”
Kalilwa fell just a couple of inches short of qualifying for nationals in the long jump, but is ranked ninth in the triple heading into the NCAA Division III championships in Birmingham, Alabama, this weekend.
Kalilwa almost did not qualify for nationals in the triple, but on the last jump of the Little East Conference meet, the sophomore jumped 38-6.75 to finish in first place at the meet while also breaking the LEC and USM records. Towle said Kalilwa performs best under pressure.
“She loves to put a lot of pressure on herself,” Towle said. “She also jumps best when the stakes are high, so it’s probably her way of reminding herself she wants to give a complete effort.”
Having experienced nationals for the first time, Kalilwa knows what she has to do to stand on the podium Saturday afternoon.
“My goal is to get to the podium and be All-American,” Kalilwa said. “If I could do better, I would just do what it takes to do it.”
After indoor track, Kalilwa wants to expand her horizons in the outdoor track season by putting more effort into the running events. The sophomore was the third leg of USM’s New England-winning 4×200-meter relay team and thinks she can be successful in the 100- and 200-meter runs, the events she ran at Lewiston.
“I could be a better sprinter and jumper,” Kalilwa said. “I think I could be better in running. In college, you kind of focus on what you’re good at.”
Towle believes Kalilwa will continue to grow in all areas of track and field.
“She’s pretty ambitious as an athlete,” Towle said. “She sets high goals for herself and they’re obtainable. She’ll come back even hungrier.”