* Ariel Pedigo won the high jump at adidas Indoor Nationals in February
Photo Credit: Nolan Jez/MileSplit
"I feel like I always want more. I'm always striving for more. Every time I PR, it's amazing, but I strive and I keep working for more. It doesn't stop there." -- Ariel Pedigo
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By Ashley Tysiac - MileSplit Correspondent
TJ Fakehinde gets messages all the time over Instagram. The reputable jumps coach, along with his partner Margaret Glover, have in recent years built up quite the pedigree training high school athletes in the Houston area.
But this one was a little different.
Never before had he been asked to train someone who was willing to drive from another state just to practice for a few hours a week.
But when the DM came in from David Pedigo, who was asking on behalf of his daughter, Ariel Pedigo, it was a particularly interesting question for the Jump Landers Track Club coach.
Pedigo's request was simple: He was hoping that Ariel could learn from the best.
After all, Fakehinde and Glover had helped produce the likes of Matthew Boling, a recent NCAA Champion at 200 meters, along with the NCAA runner-up in the long jump, Florida's Claire Bryant. There were many others, including Rice's Corbett Fong, not to mention emerging high school talents like Jalan Rivers, Alexis Tilford-Rutherford and Luke Rives.
While the request was reasonable, Fakehinde still was a little puzzled. Why drive all that way?
"I was like, 'Do you have people down here that you're going to stay with?'" he said.
The answer was no. But for Ariel, David told him, the eight-hour round trip was worth the sacrifice. Two months later, that routine has become part of her -- and her dad's -- weekly routine, a twice weekly drive to Houston.
It's been a major contributor recently as she's spiraled up the national track and field charts.
In February, roughly three months after Ariel first started working with Fakehinde and Glover, she won an indoor national title in the high jump at adidas Indoor Nationals, clearing a personal record mark of 5 feet, 10 inches. She also won her first three Louisiana state indoor titles in the 60mH, long jump and high jump.
With collegiate prospects on the horizon, Pedigo is starting to see the payoff.
But a few months ago, it all started with a simple message.
"(David) said 'No, we'll drive down and we'll go back in the same day," Fakehinde said. "I was like, 'Oh? That's a long trip.'"
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Wondering how this all works? A typical Tuesday for Pedigo began in the morning with three classes at school through Parkview Baptist's FLEX program. Her classes concluded around 11:25 a.m. and then she rushed home 10 minutes down the road.
Ariel opted against changing into her workout gear until she arrived at practice -- it saved time, she says -- and instead grabbed a bag of clothes and shoes and hopped into the car with her dad.
Then Ariel and David hit the road at 11:35 a.m. for the four-hour drive to Houston.
She arrived at practice between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. and worked with Fakehinde and Glover for nearly three hours on high jump and long jump technique.
"It's just real cool to find some like-minded coaches. They've really been a blessing." -- David Pedigo
By 6:30 p.m., Ariel and David made their way toward a nearby SUBWAY to grab some sandwiches for dinner. Then the two made a quick pitstop at Buc-ee's gas station -- a national treasure for Texans -- to fill up the gas tank and for Ariel to grab some coveted sugar-free chocolate-covered almonds to snack on. Then it was back on the road for father and daughter.
Ariel and David usually pulled into the driveway around 11 p.m. -- a long day for anyone, let alone a high school student-athlete.
The Pedigo's repeated a similar routine on Saturdays, but they departed Baton Rouge for practice at 6 a.m. and Ariel finished training at 3 p.m.
All those long drives seem to have reaped rewards for Ariel, who has seen significant improvement across various events in just a short time span. She ended her indoor season with the U.S. No. 1 high jump mark of 5-10, earning her a win in the event at adidas Indoor Nationals in February.
She also currently sits at U.S. No. 6 for the long jump after a PR jump of 19-5.75 at the Griffin Relays to open her senior outdoor season.
If she's being honest, Ariel says she enjoyed those long hours spent on the road and out on the track. Not only did she learn new techniques in the pit, but she also was able to discover a slice of Texas.
The proof lies in the numbers: A seven-inch improvement in the high jump and a three-foot progression in the long jump since the end of the 2020 indoor season. Saturday will mark the first time Ariel and her father will make the trip back to Houston since cold weather prevented the pair from traveling over a stretch in February and March.
With her dedication to the sport and a yearn to perfect her technique, Ariel has rapidly become one of the best field athletes in the country as a senior.
"I completely feel like all of my work is being paid off and is what I expected," she said.
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Ariel first began track in early middle school and participated in a variety of events. Name any event and Ariel most likely tried her hand at it -- long jump, discus, high jump, sprints and even distance events.
She raced cross country and enjoyed competing in middle distance events like the 800m and 1,600m for Parkview Baptist Middle School on the small team that David helped found at the school.
Her fast improvements as a sixth-grader solidified her commitment to the sport for the foreseeable future.
"I was improving a lot, so that's when I was like 'Wow, I really like doing this, I really like running,'" Ariel said.
Come high school, Ariel has continued to show glimmers of success. She still competed in a combination of events, and then added javelin and hurdles to the mix in hopes of training for future pentathlons and heptathlons.
Yet after her underclassmen years, she dropped the 800m and 1,600m to focus on field and hurdle events.
"One involves speed, and one involves endurance, and then high jump, you need power," Ariel said. "It was just all over the place."
By her junior year, Ariel molded into an all-around field athlete and became her state's top heptathlete as well as an emerging national prospect; she posted a U.S. No. 21 throw of 123-11.5 in the javelin and a U.S. No. 13 score of 3,769 in the heptathlon during the outdoor season, well before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the high school track and field season.
"I completely feel like all of my work is being paid off and is what I expected." -- Ariel Pedigo
But Ariel's father had a sense that Ariel had potential to make greater strides. He specifically recalls watching her during a fall long jump training session. He realized then she needed more detailed training.
"We went out to the track and tried to do a long jump practice and she was jumping 16-feet off of eight steps and I'm like, 'Wow,'" David said. "She backs up 12 steps, 14 steps, she was still going 16-feet. I was like, well, there is obviously something here I'm missing."
A scroll through Instagram in November led David to find Fakehinde and Glover.
Their work with former Houston Memorial standout Claire Bryant -- the NCAA runner-up in the long jump at Florida this past weekend at the NCAA Indoor Championships -- was enough to convince him.
David reached out almost immediately.
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Never mind the eight-hour round trip to Texas. David wanted to give Ariel the best opportunities to succeed and the chance to work with renowned coaches.
"It's just real cool to find some like-minded coaches," David said. "They've really been a blessing."
For almost every Tuesday and Saturday since that initial communication, David and Ariel have traveled to Houston to work with TJ and Margaret.
Fakehinde and Glover immediately began critiquing and tweaking Ariel's form in the long jump, high jump and hurdles. They saw that while she possesses great athleticism and strength, she needed work in defining those technical areas where athleticism stops.
"She had to do a complete change of everything," Glover said.
They helped Ariel improve everything from her long jump walk up and approach, to her hurdle technique. Ariel listened intently. Within weeks, she hit new indoor PRs in the long jump (18-8.5), high jump (5-10), 60-meter hurdles (9.13) and shot put (39-9.25).
Then, within months she transitioned from a top Louisiana talent to a national caliber athlete, something that left her somewhat surprised.
"To be honest, I don't think I expected to be this good my senior year. I know I always strived to be the best, but at the same time it was kind of normal to me."
With the help of FaceTime and other communication, Fakehinde and Glover helped Ariel put her training into action at meets wherever they were, guiding her from the other side of a screen.
For the coaches and Ariel, it has taken time to communicate effectively with each other, especially since they only interact in-person twice per week and via phone at meets.
"When she's at the meets, we'll have some FaceTime or we'll video back and forth at the meet so we're communicating from afar and letting her dad know that this is what we want," Glover said. "It's more of her having to learn us and us having to learn her body without her speaking."
Yet even with the limited face-to-face communication, Ariel has matured into a student of the sport -- studying her technique, seeking out constructive criticism and holding herself accountable during training.
"Maturing physically and mentally, actually taking the time to learn how I'm feeling," Ariel said. "I used to get upset when I hit a high jump bar; I'd just get so upset, and I'd never turn around and figure out why that happened."
David has also noticed the newfound spark in his daughter's approach to training. He used to be the one to wake Ariel up for early workouts and lifting sessions. Now Ariel reverses those roles.
"That's the biggest change I've seen this year," David said.
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After a couple months training with Jump Landers TC, Ariel confidently knows she's made the right decision.
"It's such an amazing thing to see and experience as an athlete, just seeing all your hard work and improvement being shown off through your results," Ariel said.
Ariel plans to use her indoor success as motivation during the outdoor season. Specifically, she has her sights set on a personal best mark of 6-feet in the high jump.
But she also hopes to follow in the footsteps of her older brother, Louisiana State University javelin-thrower Tzuriel Pedigo, and make a junior U.S. team.
She has her sights set on either the IAAF World Athletics U20 Championships set for August in Nairobi, Kenya, or the Junior Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia, in September.
A mannequin clad in Tzuriel's U.S. track and field uniform from his silver-medal performance in the javelin at the 2018 World U20 Championships sits in the Pedigo home, and each day Ariel passes by it, she dreams on earning a spot in the heptathlon representing the U.S.
"I really want that U.S.A. uniform," she said.
While Ariel remains unsigned going into her final prep high school season she plans on announcing her college commitment in the coming weeks.
"She'll be a surprise," Fakehinde said. "Because if she gets a coach that actually molds her and keeps everything working, then I don't see why she shouldn't be an excellent college athlete."
If her dedication now is any evidence, there is no telling what Ariel can accomplish with that mentality going forward.
"I feel like I always want more," Ariel said. "I'm always striving for more. Every time I PR, it's amazing, but I strive and I keep working for more. It doesn't stop there."