Moline grad makes Jamaican Olympic team
When the 2016 Summer Olympics get underway next month in Brazil, the Games will have representation from Moline – by way of Jamaica.
Moline High School (MHS) alumnus Aisha Praught will compete for Jamaica in the steeplechase. She was named to the team on July 5, according to WQAD.com. It's the culmination of a journey that began with a dominant high-school career and continued with more excellence at Illinois State.
For MHS head track coach Joel Bohnsack, it's a dream come true for a coach to see one of his former athletes compete at that level.
“She is an example of how, with hard work and a huge heart, a person can really develop their talents,” Bohnsack said in an email interview with Rock Island Today. “The athletes that go through Moline's track and field program are very important to us coaches, and the Moline school and community. Aisha has certainly set a standard for the Moline track and field program.”
Praught's standards are clear just by looking at the MHS track record book. She still holds the school record for recording the best time in the 1,600-meter run by breaking the 5-minute mark at the state-meet preliminaries. Praught was also the track and field team captain her junior and senior seasons, and was named the most-valuable track athlete in her sophomore, junior and senior years, according to GoRedbirds.com. She finished her MHS career by placing seventh in the 1,600 run at the 2008 Illinois High School Association Track and Field Championship Meet.
The fact that she began as a sprinter at MHS before turning into a top distance runner showed her talent and drive, Bohnsack said.
“We believed that with her talent and work ethic that she would be even more successful in the mid-distance and distance events,” he said. “She was always very competitive, but had an even bigger heart.”
And that led to bigger results at ISU. Praught had a stellar career for the Redbirds program, breaking numerous school and Missouri Valley Conference records along the way. As a senior, she finished second in the mile at the 2012 NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships, according to GoRedbirds.com.
Praught's 11th-place showing in the steeplechase final at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials led to a Nike sponsorship contract to train at the Nike Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, Oregon, according to SI.com.
That same year, Praught began looking more into her heritage with her biological father. She was born in Wisconsin, but her father is from Jamaica and was repeatedly turned down for a visa to come to the United States, according to SI.com. She has many half-siblings in Jamaica. The family ties there allowed her to suit up for that country's national team. Praught debuted for the Jamaican team in August 2015 by running in the steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China.
The women's steeplechase begins Saturday, Aug. 13.