Track star Amaya Ugarte just graduated from Windermere High as one of the school’s most decorated athletes, but her journey will continue on at The Ohio State University.
| 12:28 p.m. June 5, 2020
Hop. Step. Jump.
That’s all Amaya Ugarte had to do as she made her approach down the runway during the triple jump finals event at the 2019 FHSAA Class 4A State Championship last May.
It seems like a simple act, but the timing and precision had to be perfect — this was not a time to make a mistake. There, in front of the state’s best track-and-field athletes, Ugarte hopped, stepped and then soared through the air before landing in the soft sand.
When she was done, Ugarte had traveled 38 feet, 11 inches — a mark that would stand and result in her becoming the first state-title winner in Windermere High School history. Looking back on that title-winning performance a little more than a year later, the result still throws her.
“I was actually surprised,” said Ugarte, who will be running track at The Ohio State University. “I worked hard in that event, but it was something that I just got into that year — it was brand-new to me, and I wasn’t really expecting to do anything in that event. So it was a shocker, but it was very exciting.”
Ugarte also recalled she didn’t have much time to celebrate her victory, because she still had events immediately after.
But that was then, and this is now. If you see Ugarte around, chances are she will be wearing the ring she received for winning the state title, and she’ll be glad to tell you all about it.
“I’m very proud,” Ugarte said. “I wear my ring everywhere — it doesn’t matter if I’m going to the store only. I’ll have it on like, ‘Hey guys, see this? Florida state champion.’ I brag on it a little bit.”
Despite that state title coming as a surprise for Ugarte, when you look at the work she puts into her sport, it makes sense that she would be where she is today.
But getting to that point requires a starting place, and like many, Ugarte got into her sport because of family — specifically her dad, who enjoys running.
“I would start running with him and then I’d try to race him, and he was like, ‘The day you can race me, you’ll get a prize,’” Ugarte said. “So I started training with him and I got faster.”
Ugarte joined the track team at Lakeview Middle School, where she was introduced to a new world. There still was running, but there was also learning to use weights and how to train properly.
It took time to get used to being an athlete, but Ugarte toughed it out. By the time she started her freshman year at West Orange High, she hit the ground running. And after one year of track at WOHS, Ugarte transferred to Windermere High.
For the Wolverines, Ugarte developed her strength in the 300-meter hurdles, 4x100 meter relay, long jump, triple jump and the high jump — the last being her favorite event. During that sophomore year, she began to find her form. She earned top-10 finishes in the 300-meter hurdles, 4x100 meter relay and the high jump.
The following year as a junior, Ugarte exploded. Following a solid 2019 season, Ugarte dominated at the 2019 state meet — taking home that first-place finish in the triple jump while finishing fourth in the long jump and sixth and seventh in the high jump and 300-meter hurdles, respectively.
Although there were challenges along the way, Ugarte attributes her success to two important factors — hard work as an individual and the support of her team.
“The team — the way they always keep your mind focused sometimes — and the coaches, they’ll see you’re off one day and be like, ‘Stay focused, keep at it,” Ugarte said. “I know there are some days I wanted to quit so bad … but they take me to the side and they’re like, ‘I promise you, you’re going to feel like this sometimes, but you just have to keep your head on.’”
Although her senior season — during which she finished with six first-place finishes in seven events — was cut short because of the coronavirus, Ugarte’s journey is only beginning.
The success Ugarte achieved drew the attention of several schools, including The Ohio State University. Originally, she wasn’t thinking about the Buckeyes, but after visiting just before Christmas break last year, Ugarte decided that was where she wanted to be — it felt like family, she said. Her actual family was excited, including several members — her dad included — who are Ohio State alumni.
“Of course it was like, ‘Yeah Amaya! Yeah!,’” Ugarte said with a laugh. “And the whole family was calling me … and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, wow — this is a big deal.’”
Ugarte is currently doing what she can to stay in shape to prepare herself for the challenge that lies ahead. It’s a whole new world for her, and she couldn’t be more ready to go, she said.
“I’m excited for the experience, because I have family who told me their experiences there were really fun,” Ugarte said. “The team is great — I’ve heard a lot of good things about them. I’m just really excited.”