Like many young girls, Lauren Collins wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. With her parents’ full support, she dedicated herself to this goal, training hard with the best coaches five days a week.
Then, in high school, everything changed. She grew in height – 6 inches her freshman year – ultimately reaching 6 feet. Far too tall for gymnastics, Collins didn’t outgrow her Olympic dreams; she simply exchanged her leotards for track spikes. Today, says coach Vince O’Boyle, she has become UC Irvine’s best-ever women’s track & field athlete, with a reasonable chance to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team as a high jumper.
“Lauren likes to take on challenges,” says O’Boyle, UCI’s track & field coach for the past 27 years. “She has the talent and work ethic to go beyond college and be Olympic caliber. I hope she gives it a shot.”
A 21-year-old sociology major, Collins just completed a season that revealed this world-class potential. She won the Big West Conference high-jump title with a school-record leap of 6 feet, 1¼ inches, and finished ninth at the NCAA championships. She also set a UCI record in the heptathlon – a seven-event competition – with a score of 5,549 points, seventh-best in the world this year.
In addition, early in June, Collins – who has a 3.7 GPA – and baseball player Ben Orloff were named UCI Scholar-Athletes of the Year.
“It feels great to be recognized as a scholar-athlete,” Collins says. “Academics have always come first in my family, and it’s a nice balance to do well in something besides athletics.”
For her upcoming senior year, she will forgo the demanding heptathlon and focus on her best event, the high jump. Assistant track & field coach Kevin McCarthy says Collins already is among the elite women’s high jumpers in the country and won’t reach her prime for a few more years.
“For the high jump, she’s still young, and there are only one or two other women her age who can jump with her,” McCarthy says. “Lauren works very, very hard and is the toughest competitor on the team. She’s got a lot of upside.”
After graduating, Collins says, she will explore opportunities to extend her high-jumping career with a club team or Olympic training program. In the meantime, she plans to improve on her stellar junior-year accomplishments and enjoy sharing collegiate life with younger sister and teammate Kelly, a hurdler who just finished her freshman year at UCI.
“I love training hard and being competitive,” Collins says. “If I can get support after graduating, I want to keep going and ride it out to the 2012 Olympics and see what happens.”