Track Files: JaiCieonna Gero-Holt, 2022 NON Girls HJ Champ & Team USA member
When JaiCieonna Gero-Holt qualified for Team USA for the 2022 World U20 Championships last summer, scoring a jaw-dropping 5,401 points in the heptathlon for 2nd place, she was all of 15 years and 6 months old.
The Emerald Ridge (WA) freshman not only had the best 9th-grade and Under-16 score in American history, but she would also be one of the youngest athletes ever to compete in the World U20s in Colombia a few weeks later.
“Being one the youngest athletes out in a world pool of people already graduated or going into their second year of college was truly an honor,” she says. “All of my teammates were honestly very chill and laid back, but fun -- as well as about their business. When we were off the track we would laugh it up, but the minute they stepped on the track, it was game time.”
JaiCieonna may have been a little starry-eyed, but only a little. She had already competed against older athletes numerous times, including starting vs. collegians and post-collegians during open indoor meets at the U. of Washington. Then having hit a qualifying high jump mark for USATF Indoors, she was there last February in her home state at The Podium in Spokane, sharing the apron with world-class athletes like Vashti Cunningham. She set a 5-10.75 PR to boot (8th place), proving her moxie under pressure. She was the youngest athlete there, as well.
Still, the U20s were the trip of a lifetime (so far). JaiCieonna was thinking that she and hept teammate Bryanna Craig would have only each other to communicate with, but most of her competition spoke English and were “so sweet, warm and kind,” she said. “The culture and language is absolutely beautiful. I wish I could have explored more!”
Finishing in 17th place with 5,212 points in Colombia, JaiCieonna says, “I didn’t do as good as I wanted, but I still enjoyed the people and every second. I am grateful I had the amazing opportunity and experiences, not only for track but life, too. I will enjoy it even more next time now that I know what to expect!”
Also making the trip to the U20s with JaiCieonna was her grandmother, Elaine Gero, who has been acknowledged across the board as her biggest fan. “I have only missed one of her meets to date!” she says. “I cheer her on at every meet; the only thing is missing is my pom-poms!”
JaiCieonna’s support team is robust, also including her coach at Emerald Ridge, Bob Frey, and her club coach, Mike Strong. They marvel about how driven and focused their pupil is, and how she really doesn’t let anything get between herself and achieving her goals.
In every way, 2022 was a year of massive improvement for JaiCieonna, especially in the hept where she raised her score more than 400 points. She won three state titles for Emerald Ridge in the 100m hurdles, long jump and high jump. The high jump, as has been the case for years, was a high point -- especially when she claimed the Nike Outdoor Nationals championship last June at 5-10.5 in a great battle with Emma Gates and defending champ Cheyla Scott.
But she says there weren’t any dramatic changes in her training that led to the big year. “It’s not about making adjustments and changes in one event, it’s about improving just another notch in every event, making it all add up,” she says. “So, really it’s getting faster and stronger -- like three months ago, I was not as fast or as strong as I am today!”
If it seems like you’ve seen JaiCieonna’s name in elite T&F results for a long time, you’re not wrong. She got started in the sport as a sprinter when she was seven years old, but before she was even 10 she tried jumping and hurdling and was drawn to the Triathlon, which was available with those events in her age group in Junior Olympic competition.
The more events that were available to her in the multis with each passing year, the more JaiCieonna added to her repertoire. “As I got better I moved up to the pentathlon and now here I am in the heptathlon,” she says. “For me I find it so much better to focus on all these other events then just one or two because, in my opinion, for who I am, that’s boring to me because I am a person who likes to multi-task. I’ve been told by some that I have ADHD, which I don’t claim, so it’s hard for me to focus on just one thing and I loooove variety, I like to have options.”
While JaiCieonna says it’s a matter of continually getting a little better in every event, it’s also a mental battle. “With this sport and the events that I do, you really have to ask yourself often, ‘Is this what I want to do? Am I truly passionate about this sport and my events? Is this worth all the hard work and time? All the sweat and tears?’”
The answer, so far anyway, is a resounding YES.
This or That
AF1 or Air Max? Air max
Chipotle or Sweet Greens? Chipotle
Pool or Beach? Pool
Friday Night: In and Chill ... or Party Time!! Friday night in and chill
Date: Dinner & Movie or Great Outdoors? Date depends on my mood and how I’m feeling that day
Sports car or Pick-up truck? Neither
NBA or NFL (as a fan)? Neither
Gold medal or World record? World record
And a few more open-ended "Favorites" questions:
Favorite Song: Too many to chose
Favorite Book: Junior B and Dork Diaries Series
Favorite Movie: Any Twilight, Harry Potter, or Madea movie
Favorite Dinner: Olive Garden or Outback Steak House
Favorite Animal: Any dog
Favorite Place: My bed