Florida track and field jumper Ebony Luster is fast.
That’s what her physical education teacher told her in elementary school when suggesting that Luster should compete in track in middle school.
So, she did.
There was one problem, though. Running isn’t Luster’s thing.
“I hate running,” she said while laughing.
So in high school, Luster jumped instead.
The Lake Mary, Florida, native was a raw talent her freshman year of high school. Luster said her coach focused on sprints, and she wasn’t really taught technique.
Despite lack of proper technique, Luster was able to improve her triple-jump mark over 5 feet from 35 feet, 3 inches her freshman year to her high school best of 41 feet, 1 inch during her junior outdoor season.
Luster was a two-time second-place finisher in the triple jump at the FHSAA Class 4A Outdoor Finals in 2014 and 2015.
This success earned her a scholarship to jump for a school about 110 miles away from her hometown.
Luster said staying in Florida was important to her, and she knew that UF’s jump program had a good reputation, so her decision was a no-brainer.
“The University of Florida, like, how can you get better than that?” Luster said.
She said her freshman year at Florida was a physical and mental adjustment period. Luster had to change the technique she learned in high school, so she worked with Florida assistant coach Nic Petersen on a new approach.
The new approach didn’t pay off her freshman year. Luster competed in three indoor meets for Florida in 2016 and not once did she top her high school-best mark in the triple jump. So far in 2017, she’s topped it four times.
It happened first at the Clemson Orange and Purple meet, where she hit 41 feet, 3 inches. Then at the Hokie Invitational, improving by more than five inches, jumping 41 feet, 8.75 inches. And again, at the Razorback Invitational, jumping one, two and three times, flying through the air and into the sand, landing at 41 feet, 11.25 inches.
At the Tyson Invitational, Luster didn’t improve on her personal best mark, but she hit 41 feet, 3.25 inches, which is more than three-and-a-half feet further than the mark she set at the same meet in 2016.
Luster said she hopes to continue improving this weekend when Florida competes in the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships today and Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee.
Luster, who didn’t have the opportunity to compete at the SEC Championship last year, said she is excited for the experience and hopes to score points for her team.
“Going this year is like a big relief,” she said. “It’s like I know that I can do this now.”
Florida, which is ranked No. 1 on the men’s side and No. 11 on the women’s side, will face stiff competition. Including Florida, seven of the 14 teams competing on both the men’s and women’s side are currently ranked in the top 12 nationally.
Florida coach Mike Holloway, however, isn’t focused on the competition. He said he’s focused on the Gators.
Holloway said the team has been working hard, and it’s getting better. He said his team prides itself in being ready for championship season.
And come Friday and Saturday, he said his team will be competitive.
“Any championship we go to, we go there to win — this one is no different,” Holloway said. “We’re getting on the bus; then we’re getting on the plane; and then we’re going to go there and try to win the meet. That’s what we do.”
Contact Daniel Smithson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DanielTSmithson.
UF's Ebony Luster leaps during the Razorback Invitational on Jan. 28, 2017, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.