It was less than four years ago when Charles Yendork realized that daughter Juliana might have a future in track and field.
A former world-class triple jumper for Ghana, Yendork had been practicing his specialty when his daughter approached him hoping to give it a try.
To his surprise, the 13-year-old leaped 34 feet--competitive even for high school standards.
Within a year she was surpassing 40 feet in the triple jump and 19 feet in the long jump. At 14 she established an age-group record of 40-3 in winning the triple jump in the Junior Olympics at Provo, Utah.
She has been steadily progressing since.
As a 16-year-old sophomore at Walnut High, Yendork has been opening eyes with her performances.
In a dual meet against Covina last week, the 5-11 Yendork uncorked a 41-4 1/2, best in the state this season and No. 7 in the world, according to Track and Field News.
She has been nearly as impressive in the long jump, soaring to a state best of 19-6 1/2 against the wind in the Valle Vista League preliminaries Monday at Azusa Pacific University. That is only three-fourths of an inch off the national best--a distance she hopes to surpass today in the league finals at Azusa Pacific.
Yendork has succeeded despite having never faced a lot of competition.
She had competed as a freshman at University High in Waco, Tex., but her father did not feel she was receiving enough competition in Texas.
That prompted him to leave his job as men's and women's track coach at Paul Quinn College in Waco and move to California. He is a part-time assistant for Walnut this season and is searching for a full-time position.
"We heard about how competitive it is here, but we haven't really gotten much competition yet," he said.
"We're hoping that when she gets to the CIF meets she gets the competition."
"You have to have good competition to get better because sometimes you can't push yourself," Juliana said.
Although she says she has not watched a lot of track in California since she arrived in January, Yendork thinks the competition will be more challenging as the state meet approaches in June.
Yendork said she has received considerably more competition in two other events, the 200- and 400-meter dashes. She has produced bests of 25.0 seconds in the 200 and 58.2 in the 400, among the top times in the San Gabriel Valley.
"I think the sprinting competition is a lot better here than in Texas, but the jumping for me is about the same," she said.
Her father thinks she has the ability to run the 200 in 23 and the 400 in 53.
"She can be a real true sprinter and a real true jumper," he said. "She was breaking (age-group) records at 14 and 15. But we haven't really concentrated on the sprints. We've emphasized the triple jump and the long jump and she's done well."
If she receives competition in the jumps, her father said there is no telling how much she can improve.
He thinks she has the ability to go 43 or 44 feet in the triple jump by the state meet if she refines a new technique she has been attempting to perfect.
"She used to use a double-arm (technique) in the triple jump and now she's using a single arm," he said. "That's the technique the best jumpers in the world use. Right now she should be jumping 44 or 45 feet. Once she's able to master the single-arm, she can go 43 or 44 easily."
She said she leaped about 43 feet in the Arcadia Invitational meet in April, only to foul on the attempt.
Her father said she has had a few problems fouling recently but he has been impressed with her performance overall.
"She's only 16 years old and you don't see girls 16 jumping 41 feet in the triple jump," he said. "She's going up mostly against juniors and seniors, and she's beating them."
As for the long jump, he thinks she has a chance to surpass the 20-foot barrier today in the league finals.
"Right now her potential is 21 easily this year," he said. "But she can jump 22 if she gets good competition."
Juliana's emergence as a prep track star in Southern California may have taken a few people by surprise, but her father is not one of them.
"I'm not really surprised because, from working with her at a young age, we knew she had talent and she's also a good athlete," he said. "She's a good basketball and tennis player."
It also doesn't hurt to come from a strong family athletic background.
Her father was one of the top triple jumpers in the world in the mid-1970s with a best of 56-7 heading into the 1976 Summer Olympics at Montreal. "That would've been good enough to win the gold medal," he said.
Unfortunately, that was also the year African nations boycotted the Olympics in opposition to apartheid in South Africa. So, instead of competing for Ghana, he wound up watching the Olympics from the grandstand.
"It was a painful experience," he recalled. "We understood the politics involved, but we had trained so hard to get there."
His wife, whom he has since divorced, was a top sprinter and jumper for Ghana and still lives in that West African nation.