Uzoaru soars to national honors

At 6 feet 4 inches tall, every coach she has come across in her life has asked her to play basketball.

Her mother brags she could have given Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks a run for their money and she could have also been one of the easy, breezy faces of CoverGirl if she could ever stop laughing at the idea long enough to take it seriously.

As a teenager, she traded in her ballet slippers and pom-poms for a pair of cross trainers and some spandex, but never thought she would wear them post Cape Central High.

So just who is Marisa Uzoaru?

The Missouri native is the second of five children and a senior biology student who happens to be able to jump nearly six feet.

She is a two-time All-American high jumper on the women’s track and field team.

Uzoaru walked onto the Rattlerettes’ cross-country team as a freshman, but came on the national high jumping scene when she jumped 1.80 meters (5’10”) last summer. The jump qualified her for the NCAA outdoor nationals, where she placed 10th.

“I was really excited when I found out that I qualified,” Uzoaru said.

“My first goal was to get to nationals and the next was All-American and I did both. I didn’t jump my best, but it was a big deal for me.”

Growing up, Marisa’s parents, who are both teachers, stressed the importance of education. When most kids were watching cartoons, the Uzoaru children were reading books and playing board games.

The then self-proclaimed ‘girlie-girl’ did everything from playing the piano and participating in gymnastics to dancing ballet, tap and jazz.

“Me and my sister just really liked the girlie stuff,” Uzoaru said. “I was never really upset about not playing sports.”

Once she got to college the plan was to focus solely on academics.

She held down two jobs and still managed to keep a 3.5. GPA. But at the suggestion from her freshman year roommate, who was on the cross-country team, and a little advice from mom, she decided to give track a try.

When her first outdoor Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships rolled around, she expected to win.

But, for her, the unexpected happened.

“I choked,” Uzoaru said.

“[It was] Definitely one of my worst experiences. I know you lose together as a team but I felt responsible because my points should’ve been so automatic. I mean that kind of hits you hard.”

“I saw for a little part that Marisa kind of got really down,” said Uzoaru’s high jump coach Darius Jones.

“But once we started talking about making nationals she started doing a lot better. I could see a change in her jumping.”

Over the next couple of years that self-doubt turned into new personal records, cross-country, outdoor and indoor MEAC championships.

“She has an amazing inner strength that I think comes from her faith in God,” said Uzoaru’s mother, Nancy.

“If she wants to do something and she has the desire to do it, that strength always seems to pull her through.”

It was that very strength that guided her through the remainder of that season and earned her the trip to the national championships.

“It was a learning experience,” Uzoaru said. “I think sometimes you have to go through rough spots to learn how to deal with the pressures and adversity that comes with competing.”

Throughout her fairy tale, Uzoaru has continued to set goals, hit marks and break down barriers.

In her latest meet, she placed seventh, setting a long-awaited personal record of 1.83 meter.

“I’m pleased with how I’ve done,” she said. “But it’s just in me to always want to do better.”

Courtney Leonard can be reached at