COLUMBUS, NJ — It started as a suggestion from his former track coach in Jamaica. Franklin High School’s Mario Heslop, then a seven-year-old in primary school, had never done track before a coach suggested he give it a try. 

“I didn’t know I had track in me until one of my coaches from Jamaica told me: ‘Do track. Do something’,” Heslop said in an exclusive interview with Saturday. “I went out there and saw that I’ve got talent. From then on, I went out, started executing, and saw that I was fast and getting faster.”

To say Heslop got faster since then is an understatement, and on Saturday, he reached the pinnacle of his young career. 

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The Franklin senior took gold in the 100 and 200-meter dash events at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. His time of 20.74 in the 200 is a new state record. Combined that with his 10.53 in the 100 — his second consecutive title in that race — and it is safe to say that Heslop is the fastest man in New Jersey. 

Heslop had previously etched his name into the history books last week by running to a 10.33 time in the 100 during the sectional finals — good for No. 3 all-time. The packed house at Northern Burlington Regional Saturday was fully aware of the legend in the making; every seat consumed when Heslop was on the track. 

“Going into my races, I never let the crowd get to my head; I never let people get to my head,” Heslop said. “I know what I’ve got to do, and I did that. The crowd really motivated me, though. It gave me a lot of energy. When I’m running, I can hear it in the background, but I try to zone everything out and go out there with my best race, all the time.”

What the state saw Saturday is the culmination of what those back in Jamaica and Franklin have seen Heslop develop into. 

After migrating from Kingston, Jamaica, to the states in middle school, Heslop entered Franklin with the vision of one day become the fastest. That vision has become a reality.

“I put my mind to it,” he said. “I did go there [to Franklin] and say, ‘I’m gonna work hard, try to get the fastest time, and do everything possible to make my name sound outstanding and known’. That’s what I did, and I feel like I accomplished that.”

In addition to setting the records and making a national name for himself, Heslop has given himself the opportunity to continue running at the highest level. In May, he signed a letter of intent to run at Division I North Carolina A&T — an HBCU which is perennially one of the top-ranked track programs in the nation. 

Heslop’s accomplishments out in Burlington County will surely be celebrated back home in Jamaica, as well. Heslop still keeps in touch with and takes advice from the coach in Jamaica who got him into track — and gives her props for 

“The lady that put me into track, we still keep in touch, and she tries to get stuff out of me,” Heslop explained. “I definitely gives her props for that — for seeing what I could do — because I didn’t know until she told me to do track. That one race changed my life, and I’m happy to be one of the top fastest guys in New Jersey. I feel like there is more to come.”

Heslop was far from the only Franklin athlete competing Saturday. 

On the girls’ side, the 4x100 relay team finished sixth in the state with a time of 48.26, and the 4x400 squad’s mark of 3.55.56 was good for eighth in the state. Gabrielle Davis finished eighth with a time of 1:02.07 in the 400 meter hurdles. Meanwhile, Zania May and Rebecca Akande also qualified for the finals in the 200 and 400 meter dashes, respectively. 

For the boys, the 4x400 relay team finished 10th at 3:21.60. Asare Bampoe-Parry (high jump) and Joshua McDonald (long jump) each finished 11th in the state. Also competing in the finals were Jordan Leake (shot put, 22nd place) and Daniel Akande (400 meter hurdles, 28th place). Kumi Osei competed in the preliminary round of the 110 meter hurdles. 

Franklin is also Central Jersey, Group 4 state champions.  

“It means a lot to the school and my track team,” Heslop said of Franklin’s strong showing at the over-five hour long event. “I couldn’t do most of the accomplishments and championships that we got together by myself. I congratulate the whole Franklin team, because every point counts.”

TAPinto Franklin Township is independently owned and operated by  Malik A. Lyons FHS Class of 93’ Graduate. 

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