By David Pevear
LOWELL -- The first name on her birth certificate is indeed "Diamond."
Diamond Demeatria Jones.
"My mom has a funny joke about it," says UMass Lowell sprinter and triple-jumper Diamond Jones. "I'm the youngest of three siblings. So she would say that by the time my father got her a diamond ring, she would have another child and name her Diamond. That's just my name."
Diamond implies brilliance. Jones' smile is certainly that. It casts light on a future ever brightening, one which she studiously pursues
"You don't hear a heck of a lot from her," says UMass Lowell track coach Gary Gardner. "Over time, you learn what she is thinking."
Jones attends UMass Lowell on a Paul Tsongas Scholarship, majoring in exercise physiology, often volunteering for causes aimed at curbing the street violence that killed her brother six years ago, while triple-jumping her way toward possibly the NCAA Division 2 nationals.
"There isn't anything she does halfheartedly," says UML assistant track coach Patrick Swett, who also coached Jones at Lowell High, where she was a member of the National Honor Society and also played basketball. "Nicest kid. Brightest smile. Kills herself in the weight room and at track practice. Tons of friends. 3.7 GPA. One of the best athletes in the (Northeast-10) conference."
Oh, says Swett. One other pertinent detail. Jones has scoliosis, a misalignment of the spine that keeps her running and jumping forms from ever being as precise as the techniques she tirelessly strives after. That has not prevented Jones, a junior, from gaining four feet in her triple jumps since high school and clocking a 24.88 in the 200 meters at the Larry Ellis Memorial Invitational last Saturday at Princeton University.
"A girl who barely made the high school state meet, to now being ranked nationally in Division 2," says Swett. "It's pretty amazing."
And there is so much more to come, Swett believes. He gauges Jones' rate of improvement ( "about a foot and a half better every year") while noting that triple-jumpers mature later than other college track athletes. In other words, Jones is still a Diamond in the rough.
Her PR in the triple jump is 38 feet, 71/2 inches, which she did indoors last December at Northeastern's Jay Carisella Invitational at Boston University. UMass Lowell's school records in the triple jump are held by Toni-Marie Henry, who outdoors did 41 feet, 111/2 inches in 2006. Gardner estimates that hitting a jump in the mid-39s will likely get Jones to nationals, "and she's been within a foot of that 80 percent of the time."
"Once you're hitting in that range, you know that jump will come," says Gardner. "She just needs to catch one on the right day."
Jones will compete in the Penn Relays today and Friday. The Northeast-10 Conference Championships and New Englands will follow the next two weekends.
"I definitely want to PR in the triple (jump). I haven't done that yet this spring," she says. "I want to do that next."
Jones did PR last Saturday in the 200-meter dash, running a 24.88 while finishing 11th at the Larry Ellis Memorial Invitational.
"Not only has she become a much better triple-jumper, but also a New England scorer in the sprints. That's not something we anticipated," Gardner says. "She's one of the hardest workers on the team."
Jones, the daughter of Ben Jones and Attle Young, attended the Murkland Elementary School in the Acre and the Daley Middle School in the Highlands. She still hears kids in the hallways calling her name, "Diamond -- for no other reason than just to say it," Jones says with a laugh.
Swett, who came to UMass Lowell the same year Jones did, remembers the first time he saw her run at Lowell High.
"It didn't look pretty," he says. "But she was moving."
At Lowell High, Jones became a consistent scorer outdoors in the 200 and triple jump, and ran the second leg of a 4x100 relay that placed fourth in the Eastern Mass. Division 1 Meet in 2010.
Swett knew before that 2010 spring season he would leave his head coaching job at Lowell High to coach the jumpers at UMass Lowell. He did not tell his team, not wanting it to become a distraction.
"I was slowly pushing UMass Lowell (to Jones)," he says with a smile, "because I knew she had talent yet to be discovered."
The essay that helped Jones earn a Tsongas full-tuition academic scholarship to UMass Lowell dealt with volunteerism in the city and the influence her late brother Andre Young had on her. He was shot to death in Lowell in May 2007 at age 23. Jones was a Lowell High freshman at the time of her brother's death.
"He always told me to work hard at everything I did," she says. "He basically told me I would be the one to get (beyond the streets) and have a better life, whether it was academically or through athletics. He was always there for me in anyway he could be."
Jones' sister, Masada, 25, is a poet who encourages teens to express troubles in words. Masada Jones also works at the Lowell Community Health Center, which in recent summers has sponsored a "Dance 4 Peace" to celebrate harmony in the neighborhoods.
Diamond Jones volunteers in pursuit of this goal while on her way also toward jumping 39 feet and beyond. With a name like Diamond, her teachers used to tell her, her future will most certainly be written in lights.