By TREY WILLIAMS
After narrowly missing a TSSAA state berth in the triple jump as a sophomore in 2018, David Crockett’s Karina Palomino was confident she’d land in a Spring Fling or two before her high school career was done.
Alas, she never got another chance to relaunch.
Palomino tore an ACL playing basketball during December of her junior season, and after rehabbing for nearly a year to get back for her senior season of track and field, the coronavirus pandemic denied her a second straight season.
“My sophomore year I had qualified for the sectional and I ended up fifth and you had to be at least fourth to qualify for the state,” Palomino said. “I think I lost by a few inches. … So I was actually really excited this year. Coach (Mark) Jennings had come to me and said I was projected fourth in the state and that was just looking at my numbers for my sophomore year. So yea, I felt pretty confident. I was excited. I definitely thought I was going to state this year.”
Jennings was perhaps even more optimistic, noting how hard Palomino had worked to get back to form.
“The 2020 track season was to be her comeback year and hopefully earn a trip to the state,” Jennings said. “It was not to be.”
The season was initially suspended after Crockett’s first meet. The ensuing 6-7 weeks of uncertainty were like a nightmare in slow motion.
“You could hear all the rumors, everyone just speculating and stuff,” Palomino said. “It was hard to not let it get to you. I don’t know, it was just hard hearing everyone say it and you just not wanting to believe it, especially knowing it’s the last time you get to go out there and do something you like.
“And when it actually happened, I think it was just heartbreaking, not only for myself, but the other athletes. It was the last time we got to be out there doing a sport we love or being out there with our friends, teammates.”
Palomino has a 22-year-old sister (Carolina) and a 21-year-old sister (Daniela), the latter of whom threw discus at Crockett. Having older sisters helped instill mental toughness.
“Even from when I was little playing a board game, they never let me win,” Palomino said. “It definitely helped me. … Daniela threw the discus all four years. And her senior year she went to the state and (finished seventh in the state).”
Palomino’s perseverance figured to reach the state championships, tool. Marty Story coached her in basketball her first two seasons.
“Palomino is a great kid,” Story said. “I hated leaving her. She was a coach’s dream.”
Palomino was quick to credit a number of Crockett coaches and former coaches.
“Coach Jennings would come up to me every single day during school and tell me I was going to get to state this year,” she said. “Obviously, he knew I was hurt and I could barely even walk, but he just gave me that confidence. Coach (Tony) Gordon, my basketball coach the last two years, he talked to me a lot, letting me know not to get down on myself.
“And Coach Story, even though he wasn’t my coach anymore, he would text me and see how I was doing and tell me to keep going. I think Coach Story has always believed in me more than pretty much anyone.
“And Jerry Day was our bus driver and assistant coach. He was a big part in my recovery mentally more than anything. He was with me all 10 months of my recovery, whether it was praying with me or giving me pep talks. He has the kindest heart out of anyone I’ve met.”
Tough times during rehab were also made easier by Palomino’s parents.
“While I was home recovering I was a big baby, and they sat here and took care of me,” she said. “Any I had great teammates – Emma Gouge, Halle Scott, Madison Orr. I had a lot of friends who were there for me.
“Morgan Barkley plays volleyball and she’s going to Walters State. She was playing on a torn leg, which most people don’t know. She knew what I was going through.”
Palomino was known for on-ball defense in basketball. She said she has opportunities to continue basketball at NAIA schools in Pennsylvania, Iowa and Georgia, although she isn’t necessarily leaning in that direction.
She’s at peace with herself, if not fate, knowing she worked hard to regain her form after sustaining the torn ACL.
“I got hurt and of course I was, like, bummed out and didn’t really know what to feel,” she said. “But I still had the senior year to look forward to … to keep working harder. And unfortunately events like Covid and stuff just didn’t allow it. That’s definitely the hardest part.”
Palomino was one of three Crockett seniors. Russell Kern threw discus and Payden Squires, who transferred from Daniel Boone prior to his junior year, ran the 3,200.
“This would’ve been Kern’s first year in track,” Jennings said. “He was working hard with Coach (Ron) Sillmon to throw discus. Squires was a four-year runner in cross country and track.”