Tara Okusaga is a senior from Northwest High School. Last year she rose to a very competitive level in the hurdle and jumping events. During the 2006 indoor track season, she placed 2nd in the county in the 55m hurdles in a time of 9.0. At last year's 4A West outdoor track meet, she placed 2nd in the 100-meter hurdles in 15.98 and 3rd in the 300-meter hurdles in 47.53. She is also one of the best triple jumpers in the area with a personal best jump of 34'-06.75". And although she was not a top-7 member of the county champion Northwest cross country team, she was the senior team captain along with her favorite person in the world Hillary Bell. She tells mocorunning.com about her experience running cross country this year, about her painful crash at last year's state championship, and what she has been doing to keep up with the top hurdlers in the state this season.
MoCoRunning: Tara Okusaga...ok, help us out. How is it pronounced?
Okusaga: Ha-Ha, well my full name is actually Motara Okusaga. I go by Tara (tahr-rah) because I though it would be easier for people to pronounce, but people still seem to have trouble with it. My last name is pronounced O-koo-sah-gah, and I am seriously surprised by the amount of people who either can't pronounce my last name or think I am Japanese because of my last name.
MoCoRunning: Are you ready for track season?
Okusaga: I am so excited for this season. I have had a LONG time to reflect on what I did last year and think about what I want to accomplish this year. Also I think that through training over the summer, going to track camp, and running XC this past fall, I have put myself in position to really do some damage this year in both the hurdles and the jumps.
MoCoRunning: How did you like cross country? Do you have any good stories?
Okusaga: Well, this is my second year running cross country and I think my season went okay. I didn't really do anything spectacular but I definitely set a good foundation that I can build upon in the upcoming seasons.
As for cross country stories, I have tons of them, especially ones from the Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh University. However, I can only tell you about what happened after the meet when we went to Dorney Park because most of the other stories are on a need-to-know basis. This year we went to Lehigh with Quince Orchard's XC team and it was really fun getting to know QO's top runners and riding roller coasters all day. While most of the runners were okay with riding roller coasters, some runners, namely Kathy Aherne and Hillary Bell, really couldn't handle the excitement. Kathy spent the whole day screaming her head off, even before the rides started, and hurting everyone who made her get on the rides, until Mike Migdall slapped her to calm her down. Trust me Mike did us all a favor, and Kathy was okay after we were on the bus and far away from Dorney Park. Hillary on the other hand, couldn't even handle watching other people ride the roller coasters, unless she was on one of her little kid rides!
MoCoRunning: You ascended into the top group of hurdlers and jumpers in the county last year, but you weren't quite on the level of girls like Audrey Gariepy (Churchill) and Shaakira Raheem (Einstein). Do you think that you can catch those girls this year? What have you done to prepare yourself for this season?
Okusaga: Yeah, I definitely think that I can catch these ladies this year. I know that it's going to be tough because both Audrey and Shaakira are very talented athletes, but I have spent the better part of this year trying to fix the things that prevented me from "being on their level." Like I said earlier, I did a lot of training over the summer and fall to get ready for this season, but I also did a lot of drilling to work on my hurdling form and increase my turnover speed in between the hurdles.
MoCoRunning: It's the 300-meter intermediate hurdles race at the outdoor state championship. You come off the last curve winning your heat, possibly running fast enough to score points for your team. You leap towards the last hurdle, trip, and hit the ground hard. If it's not too painful to relive, tell us what happened on that last hurdle.
Okusaga: Oh, I knew this question was coming. Okay, I guess I should start the story from before the 300's. Earlier that day I raced pretty badly in the 100m high hurdles finals, so I knew I had to redeem myself with my intermediate hurdles race. With that in mind, I was really nervous when I got on the line especially since Jenny McCoy (WJ) was in my heat and she beat me consistently throughout the season. So the gun went off and the race started like every other race that season. It wasn't until the curve when I realized I was in the lead. I knew that I had to hold on to the lead if I wanted a chance at placing out of my heat, so I kept pushing until I got to the last hurdle. This is the part where everything gets a little fuzzy. I am pretty sure that the reason why I tripped was because I didn't bring my train leg over the hurdle high enough so it got caught. And since collegiate hurdles have square bottoms the hurdle didn't move forward so I fell down headfirst and ripped off some of the skin on my shoulder, face, arms and legs. I was told that my head bounced a couple times but I really don't remember that. After I realized what happened I got up and finished the race and went to the medic tent and I was pretty much a wreck for the rest of the day.
MoCoRunning: Needless to say you probably felt awful, mentally and physically, but the good news is you were only a junior. What are your goals for your senior seasons of indoor and outdoor track?
Okusaga: My biggest goal for both seasons is to win more meets. Looking back at my past seasons, I realized that I have way too many 2nd and 3rd place finishes and very few 1st place finishes. Don't get me wrong, I am proud of what I have done so far, but I am looking to step up and do much better in my senior year.
MoCoRunning: Between Brittany Moreland, Kelsey Porter, Emma Eckerstrom, and yourself, Northwest has probably the most well-rounded team in the county. What does your team hope to accomplish the season?
Okusaga: Before I answer this question I would like to remind you that you forgot to mention Kathy Aherne as one of the athletes who helps to make Northwest a well-rounded team. As for what we plan to accomplish this season, we want to use indoor as a building season so that we can repeat the success that we had last year during outdoor.
MoCoRunning: Ha Ha...oops. Sorry Kathy. What has it been like learning to hurdle and jump under the Northwest coaching staff?
Okusaga: Honestly, I think I am really lucky to have a coach like Ms. Muehl, and I am not just saying that because she controls my workouts. She really has been there since day one helping me and believing in me when no one else did. Plus she was a hurdler and jumper, so she really has great insight on hurdling and jumping technique, which really helps when she is teaching me how to drill and train.
MoCoRunning: Hurdles or Jumps?
Okusaga: That's a tough question, I really don't know because I love them both, but since I have to choose I pick the hurdles. So much technique and training goes into running a good hurdle race, that it is just so amazing when people can pull together all those techniques and run flawless races. That just makes hurdling so fun to watch and participate in.
MoCoRunning: What are you doing when you're not at track practice?
Okusaga: My favorite things to do when I am not at practice are eating, which is why I plan to enter one of your infamous eating contests in the near future, hanging out with my teammates, even though all we do is make fun of each other, and spending time with family and friends, since I never see them during the season.
MoCoRunning: Ha ha. Well I look forward to seeing you chow down on some burritos in the Spring. Thank you very much and good luck this season.
Okusaga: Thank you so much for choosing me for
this articles and have a Happy Thanksgiving!