NEWTON - Carla Forbes looks down at her feet and her mind goes blank. The physics of the triple jump - the angles, leverage, speed, force - no longer concern her. As she stands on the runway, ready to take off, she knows it’s better to think of nothing and let her body take over.
The Newton North High School junior is 5 feet 4 inches of wound muscle, the best female high school triple jumper in the country. When she takes off, the neon colors of her workout gear start to blend together. Her T-shirt reads, “There is no finish line.’’
The message has literal meaning for a jumper like Forbes. But it also holds true as a metaphor for her training: Though she is a six-time national champion, she is not done. She knows she can be better.
“I’m still working on the little things,’’ Forbes said. “I’m trying to focus in on the little details and techniques that separately might not make much of a difference, but when put together with the rest of the jump, they’ll make a big improvement.’’
It’s hard to fathom.
With more than a full year left in her high school career, Forbes’s track and field résumé is already loaded with records and national titles.
Over the winter, she set New England indoor marks for both the triple jump and long jump.
As a long jumper, she has amassed three All-State indoor championships and a National Scholastic Indoor title (as a sophomore).
Her triple jump accolades are even more staggering. She won the national title as a freshman. Last summer, at 16, she was the youngest member on the US team that competed in the World Youth Championships in Lille, France.
A few weeks ago, she won the national triple jump title again, setting meet and New England records with a leap of 42 feet 5.25 inches at the high school indoor championships. Remarkably, the distance would have placed her eighth at this winter’s NCAA Division 1 championships.
It’s no wonder she’s received interest from nearly every major Division 1 collegiate program in the country.
“You can’t get the distances she’s getting without some innate ability,’’ said Joe Tranchita, in his 24th year as the Newton North coach; he also coaches Forbes at the Waltham Track Club. “But she also has a tremendous competitive spirit. She’s very eager to be the very best she can be. It’s that driving force that leads her to be successful.’’
For Forbes, the road to improvement starts away from the track. In the weight room, she squats up to 175 pounds to strengthen the legs that send her hurtling down the runway in the triple jump “like a stone skipping on water,’’ said Tranchita.
In her Hyde Park home, Forbes will often sit at a computer and watch YouTube videos of Jonathan Edwards, the world record holder and the 2000 Olympics gold medalist in the triple jump, over and over again.
Back at practice, she looks to tweak her jump mechanics in order to gain a few inches. She has become acutely aware of how her body should be positioned from one motion to the next. Now her goal is to execute those positions as precisely as possible.
“There’s still tremendous room for improvement,’’ Tranchita said. “She’s still learning, but her knowledge of the event is starting to be fulfilled. She’s at the point where you can have in-depth conversations with her about the biomechanics of the jump.’’
Each phase of the triple jump gets dissected by Tranchita and Forbes.
After her running start, she explodes off of her right leg - the first jump. She floats in the air as her feet rotate like a cyclist’s. She then hits the ground, and propels herself forward off of her right foot again - the second jump - punching the air as she gains altitude.
Her face twists as she strains every muscle to move forward. Finally, her left leg touches down, and she jumps again. After skimming above the sand pit with her arms outstretched, she lands heels first, and falls to the side.
Weight lifting will help her add distance. So might watching video. If she grows, that would help, though she’s not counting on it - scoliosis has already robbed her of 2 inches, she says.
Improved technique is the key. She thinks about it every chance she gets, often pacing and talking to herself right up until she takes the runway for a jump in competition.
Even when she describes the triple jump over the phone, she acts it out for her own benefit. “I’m getting really into this,’’ she said excitedly in a follow-up conversation.
The Newton North girls are shooting for their third straight outdoor state title this spring. The Tigers have a young squad, but they return senior captain Kayla Wong, one of the best hurdlers in the state and a talented long jumper in her own right. The Tigers will also field dangerous relay teams, which will likely include both Wong and Forbes.
The jumps by Forbes, though, leave her teammates in awe on a daily basis.
“She motivates us,’’ Wong said. “Watching her helps motivate us to try to jump as far as she does.’’
Motivation for Forbes sits folded neatly at home. It’s her red, white, and blue uniform from last summer’s World Youth Championships. Every so often she’ll take it out to look at it, wondering when she might be able to wear the colors again. She itches to take part again in international competition.
Her experience in France didn’t quite go as planned. Forbes, who hopes to compete in the Olympics eventually, finished 10th against the world’s best teenage triple jumpers. But knowing that she didn’t make her best jump left her frustrated.
“I know that I want to be in that situation again,’’ Forbes said, “to do better next time.’’
Despite all her success, this is her mantra. She is grateful for what she’s accomplished, but she is not satisfied. There is always a next time, and she can always do better, Forbes said.
“This is what I love to do. You have to dream big.’’