Cotten Comes Full Circle To Second BIG EAST Championship
2012 BIG EAST Pentathlon Champion Jasmine Cotten

Feb. 27, 2012

By Shawn Sell

Jasmine Cotten'scollege career has been far from conventional. It's had its share of lows--the injuries, the bad attitudes, and highs--the school records, the BIG EAST Championships and on Oct. 22, 2010 the ultimate high, motherhood. But after her performance at the 2012 BIG EAST Indoor Track and Field Championships, Cotten's career has now come full circle.

Upon her arrival at UC in time for the 2007 season, Cotten, a three-time West Virginia state champion, admittedly had a bad attitude. While her coaches saw in her potential, Cotten instead carried around bitterness and anger, in part from a feeling of being alone so far from home. Cotten is the first to admit her attitude could have used an improvement.

"When I came my freshman year I didn't really have any support from anywhere except athletics," she says. "So I had a bad attitude because I felt like I was by myself. I felt like I didn't have anybody and nobody cared so why should I? I was just here to get my degree. I wasn't really concerned with track honestly because I didn't think I was going to get anywhere with it."

While Cotten's potential caught the eye of UC assistant coach in charge of jumps and multi-events Chris Wineberg, so did her attitude. In fact, Wineberg, along with the other coaches never even thought Cotten would stick around to see the end of her career.

"That (first) year was really rough," Wineberg recounts. "I can remember she came to practice dressed in street clothes a couple times saying she was quitting and going back home. Of course if those were her true intentions, why did she come to practice at all? She was just struggling to find her way. If you would have asked the coaches (then) if she would be around in a couple years, the likely answer would be no."

As it turns out, Cotten did stay around, but had a rather unproductive first year of collegiate competition. When she came back as a sophomore, much to the surprise of her coaches, Cotten was sporting a boot on one of her feet, the result of foot surgery the coaches were unaware of. And so on the heels of an unproductive freshman year, Cotten sat out the year rehabbing.

When the next season rolled around, the 2009 campaign, Wineberg thought he was coaching a different athlete. Finally, he thought, Cotten was starting to embrace her substantial talent. In competition, the results began to show. At the 2009 BIG EAST Indoor Track and Field Championships, Cotten had her coming out party, stealing the show by winning the pentathlon with a school record mark, along with placing in the top-five in both the high jump and the long jump. For her efforts, she won the Most Outstanding Field Performer at the Championships and Wineberg had validation of his thoughts on Cotten.

"It was my first year coaching her but I am not responsible for her complete transformation," he says. "She really just turned her life around in so many ways. I hope I gave her good guidance and helped her finally see what she was capable of. A lot of that was just an internal change where she decided she wanted to do things better and differently."

Fast forward another year to the 2010 season and Cotten's story picks back up with a familiar verse. Her indoor season wasn't bad (seventh in the BIG EAST indoor pentathlon), but once again the injury bug bit and Cotten lost the outdoor season to injury. Shortly after the conclusion of that portion of the year, Cotten came to the coaching staff with some big news.

"She couldn't compete (during outdoor)," Wineberg recalls. "At about that same time, she comes to us and has a serious talk with us where she informs us that she is pregnant.

"At that point, we didn't know what to do or how to deal with this kind of thing," he continues. "But we stuck through with her and believed she was on the right track to come back and do some big things."

With her pregnancy, Cotten obviously wouldn't be able to compete the following season and was granted a medical hardship for the 2011 season, thus granting her a sixth year of eligibility. But then a funny thing happened and fate intervened. The UC coaching staff, which previously wasn't sure how to deal with something like this, suddenly was. Shortly after her gold medal performance in the 2008 Olympics, Wineberg's wife Mary gave birth to the couple's first child and Wineberg (his wife's coach as well) had learned the art of helping an athlete return to form after pregnancy.

"I had just gone through that as a coach with my wife," Wineberg says. "After the 2008 Olympics, we had our first child and I went through the whole process of trying to bring her back into form. We felt confident that Jasmine was committed and could return to her previous level and I felt confident that I could help guide her along the way."

With one final chance to be a star, Cotten has returned to form and then some during the 2012 indoor season. At the BIG EAST Championships Feb. 17-18, Cotten was a star. Much like her 2009 performance, Cotten set a school record in the pentathlon, claimed second in the open long jump and fourth in the high jump. That performance added up to a second Most Outstanding Field Performer award for a very emotional Cotten.

"That weekend was definitely the greatest accomplishment in my career as a runner," she says. "The atmosphere, being with my teammates, everything was great. I wanted to perform for myself but also for my teammates. I can't really explain it; it was just something I've never felt before. I was really emotional the whole day even before the end of the competition. At the end of the second event I wanted to cry because I was so elated to be there and be able to run once again after everything that had went on. It was just a great experience."

Another challenging but rewarding experience for Cotten has been motherhood. Her daughter, Saniyah, now just over 16 months old keeps her on her toes along with the challenge of balancing grad school, internships, practice and competition. But Cotten wouldn't change one minute of it.

"My daughter keeps me going," she says. "She is a little rascal for sure. But when I pick her up, if you are having a bad day, you can't continue to have a bad day when she smiles at you. Just picking her up from daycare and being around her is enough to pick me up and keep me going.

"I don't want her to ever see my quit," she continues. "At the BIG EAST, right before the 800, I was like I could jog this thing or I could run this thing and I didn't want to ever have to say I lost when I could have won, because I didn't decide to run the 800 (hard). I want her to see I have adversity and things that could have held me back, but you can overcome anything if you just decide that's what you want to do."

While it may seem like Cotten has already accomplished so much already, that doesn't mean she is done, in fact not even close. With an automatic qualifier slot for the pentathlon in her back pocket for next month's NCAA Indoor Championships, she is focused on that for now. After that it will be the outdoor season and if all goes as planned an even bigger stage down the road.

"I think one thing I have learned is set high expectations but don't burn out thinking about it. I am just taking it one step at a time," she says. "My ultimate goal is to see myself at the Olympic Trials and competing with the best in the world. I am just going to keep training hard and see where it goes."