CHATHAM, NJ - There are moments during track & field meets when Chatham sophomore Melina Panagakos gets a little stressed about where she needs to be next.
"I'm always moving around and doing something," she said. "It is stressful, but I do enjoy it. When I'm at a meet and I'm only doing one or two events, I feel like I'm just sitting around. Even though I will occasionally complain about being everywhere, I do enjoy competing in a lot of events."
Although Panagakos has competed in the high hurdles, intermediate hurdles, and running events such as the 100, 200 and 400, as well as numerous relay teams, she's now focusing on one direction: Up.
"She's really blossomed in the high jump," Stephanie Frost, Chatham girls track coach, said. "She's 5-6 and I feel like 66 percent of her is legs, so I think the hurdles was a natural thing for her to try. She started doing the high jump in the spring last year. She jumped five feet in the winter and she is jumping five feet now, but she can definitely get 5-2, and 5-3 is the school record."
Last week at the Morris County Relays, Panagakos helped Chatham earn second-place finishes in the shuttle hurdles relay and the intermediate hurdles relay. She also produced the second-best individual high jump with a leap of five feet.
Melina Panagakos is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
"She's an up-and-coming hurdler for us," Chatham coach Patrick Barry said. "She's very athletic. She's improved her speed. Right now, her best event is the high jump. Eventually, she'll be one of the top hurdlers in the intermediate and high hurdles. She's an athlete."
A growth spurt of two inches last summer has coincided with the 16-year-old's desire to jump higher. Panagakos already is close to clearing 5-2 and some tweaks in her technique are making a difference.
"I'm working on height and form," Panagakos said. "I just picked up a lot of little techniques like not looking at the bar on your approach and planting your foot before you jump. All these little things help. I recently learned that if you look at the bar, you tend to lean into it. I'm incredibly close to making 5-2. One thing holding me back is getting my legs over the bar.
"I don't necessarily work on height, I work on form. Height doesn't come into play until I get to the meet. I just work on form and my steps and the height will come from that."
On Wednesday, Panagakos cleared 5 feet, 2 inches, earning first place in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference meet.
Panagakos got her start in track by joining the Chatham rec team when she was at Lafayette School. She also ran the Fishawack Fun Run, finishing as the second woman to cross two straight years as a 7th and 8th grader.
"On the rec team I ran the 200 and 800, so I was thinking about doing that when I got to high school," Panagakos said. "Then they put me in the 400 and I did well in that, then the hurdles, then I started high jumping last spring."
Other than her favorite event of the moment - the high jump - Panagakos loves pretty much everything about track and field.
"I like the physical aspect of it because afterward I feel so good," Panagakos said. "The other thing is the people. People on the team have become my best friends."
Panagakos has followed the lead of the Kirton sisters, Simone and Leila, by taking classes at High Intensity Track. So far, her personal-best times are 16.4 in the high hurdles and 71.3 in the intermediate hurdles.
"She's had a very good season," Frost said. "She's one of the top 100-meter runners, 200-meter runners, 400 runners, hurdlers, high jumpers. It's hard to pick a couple events for her because she has found success in everything she's done."
Panagakos isn't limited to the events track and field offer. She also plays club soccer and continues to play the sport as a forward and outside midfielder.
In her spare time, she plays the guitar and ukulele and is working on her Girl Scout Gold Award project, which she has yet to finalize.
"I'm leaning toward teaching a class on how to use a tourniquet to stop bleeding in emergency situations," she said.
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