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Marissa Holmes of Marion won both the triple jump and high jump at the South Seven Conference girls track meet. She also placed second in the long jump.

Marissa Holmes, a senior at Marion High School, never competed in track and field before this spring. 

And it's a good thing she decided to try something new.

Holmes, who has an extensive background in gymnastics, has quickly become one of Southern Illinois' best athletes in the jumping events. 

She also signed a track and field scholarship with SIU in April. 

Holmes has been competing in gymnastics since the age of 4, and she's qualified for the Junior Olympics multiple times. 

"The coach (Sara Baker) tried to talk me into it, and it took her a few months," Holmes said of her decision to give track and field a try. "Eventually, I told her I would come out. She wanted me to just try pole vaulting because gymnasts usually get that down pretty quick. I tried it for a couple weeks, and it wasn't really clicking in very well."

What did click in well was the high jump, long jump and triple jump. Holmes has already leaped 5-foot-4 in the high jump, which would been good enough for third in the state at last year's Class 2A meet in Charleston. 

"I ended up trying sprints," said Holmes, who competes on Marion's 400 and 800-meter relay teams. "I also tried the jumping events and ended up loving those as well."

This season, Holmes has cleared 34 feet, 6 inches in the triple jump and 16-3.75 in the long jump. 

"I didn't think I'd pick it up as quickly as I did," Holmes said. "The only problem was, in the high jump you have to keep your legs and body loose to get over the bar, and in gymnastics you always have your body tight. So, I had trouble with that at first. But that's been the only thing that has been a struggle."

One of the things Holmes likes about her new sport is the chance to beat herself each time she competes. 

"I'm a competitive person in general, and in this sport, I realize I can do better each time," Holmes said. "I'm definitely enjoying it."

At the SIU Indoor Meet earlier this spring, Holmes caught the eye of the SIU coaches. She stayed in contact with them, and she'll suit up for the Salukis next season. 

"I had already picked a school, just for academics, not for anything sports," Holmes recalled. "They ended up offering me a scholarship. I'm excited about it. I'm going to get to learn a lot of new things there."

SIU recruited Holmes as a multi-event athlete. All of her hard work in gymnastics, which included five hours of practicing every day, has helped Holmes quickly excel in track and field. 

"I had to miss a lot of things, but it was worth it," Holmes said. "I've never had a day off, and I'm just used to it now. I don't have any regrets. I still love the sport of gymnastics, and it's not going away anytime soon."

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