For her whole career, from winning state in Alaska to winning a bronze medal at the Olympics, Janay DeLoach Soukup of Fairbanks has used her left foot for takeoff in the long jump.
But she’ll use her other foot when she looks to defend her national title at this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento.
Her new look isn’t by choice.
The 28-year-old is still hampered by a nagging left ankle injury that prevents her from exploding off that foot, forcing her to use her right foot. So basically now she has to do the opposite of everything she has practiced for the last decade.
“I’m getting back to basics all over again,” she told me.
DeLoach Soukup has hardly been the same. No surprise, no shame. What she is doing is like LeBron James shooting a jumper with his left hand or Phil Mickelson swinging a right-handed golf club.
Yet DeLoach Soukup musters the courage to compete; she made her 2014 debut at last month’s Prefontaine Classic and finished seventh with her worst mark since 2009. She was ranked No. 2 in the world a year ago.
“I’m really rusty,” she said with a laugh. “But I really, truly believe that I can be just as good jumping off my right side. If not I wouldn’t waste my time or affect my self-esteem not jumping so far.”
She will also run the 100-meter hurdles at this week’s national championships, looking to duplicate her indoor season success in the 60-meter hurdles when she won the Millrose Games and placed fifth at the IAAF World Championships in Poland.
DeLoach Soukup, of Eielson High fame, said she feels no pain in her left ankle when she runs the hurdles, only when she takes off during the long jump. She first suffered the injury at last year’s national championships.
Since then she has practiced jumping off her right foot, a technique she will continue after her left foot heals because she wants to combat setbacks in the future.
“I might as well just in case,” she said.
Still, it hasn’t been easy. Her timing is off and her technique is foreign. She has struggled to find her rhythm.
“Just trying to coordinate my body in opposite direction after I have the habit of going the other direction is really difficult,” she said. “Things have definitely started out slow.”
Even on half a leg, though, DeLoach Soukup is better than most.