Palmer prides self on representing Jamaica

By Frank Gogola

Freshman jumper Chennel Palmer didn’t know exactly what she had signed up for when she joined track and field 100 or so days ago.

Palmer came to the United States from Jamaica in January to attend NIU. While Palmer said the competition level is higher, getting to know people is tougher and the grading in the classroom is harder than in Jamaica, the biggest change for her has been the climate.

“It’s so warm in Jamaica all the time,” Palmer said. “And it’s so cold here. It’s like summer is coming and it’s spring now and it’s still cold. Like we went to Texas [March 26-28] and it was so nice. And then we had to come back here and it’s like 30 degrees.”

The DeKalb winter afforded Palmer with her first taste of snow. She said her relatives in the United States brought her a winter jacket and other winter clothing before she came to NIU.

“That was not a fun experience,” Palmer said of the snow. “It was my first time seeing snow, and it irritated me every day.”


Palmer said the popular sports in Jamaica, where the lowest the temperature gets is in the 60s, were cricket and baseball, but her family wasn’t into sports when she was growing up. It took a stroke of luck for her to get involved in organized sports.

That lucky break for Palmer came when she was running around at recess in second grade. The school’s track and field coach saw her and sent her to join the school’s team at 7 years old.

“For me [track and field] was just fun,” Palmer said. “But, when I reached high school then I started to take it more serious because it was like competitions.”

The personal records came for Palmer when she transitioned from track events to doing the high jump at St. Andrew High School for Girls in Kingston, Jamaica.

She cleared 1.7 meters in the high jump at 14 years old and 1.78 meters during her junior year. In February 2014 she set a personal record of 1.8 meters, which would top the NIU record if she can replicate the feat.

While Palmer said there were only three or four girls in her high school competitions who could jump the top heights, her coach would motivate her to push herself to the next level. In terms of the number of top-notch jumpers and heights being jumped, she said the competition in the United States is much stiffer.

For Palmer to even get to NIU required the touch of assistant coach Vince Bingham. Head coach Connie Teaberry said Bingham, who was not available for comment, has connections across Jamaica.

“He is a guru of recruiting,” Teaberry said. “He knows somebody a little bit of everywhere. His connections gave way to information about Chennel, and then he made a couple calls and we got her contact information.”

Bingham began the recruitment of Palmer during the summer as Teaberry was sidelined after knee surgery. Bingham worked with Palmer to get her paperwork in order, and Teaberry and Palmer had conversations through email and Instagram toward the end of the signing process.


Latesha Bigby, senior sprinter and jumper, was in the same boat as Palmer four years ago. Bigby came to the United States from Hanover, Jamaica, and attended Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., for two seasons before transferring to NIU last year.

Palmer and Bigby, who are the only current Huskies from Jamaica, first met when Bigby and others from the team went to pick up Palmer to take her to her residence hall.

“She looked so scared, as if she was ready to go back home,” Bigby said. “Also, she looked very silent. That’s what I remember about her. She was looking so scared because she didn’t know who we were at the time.”

It took Palmer some time to warm up to Bigby and the rest of her teammates, coaches and other students.

“It was hard,” Palmer said. “It wasn’t easy because I speak different. When I just came here I sometimes had to speak things more than once for people to understand. It’s a little different because people here do stuff different. They don’t really like do stuff like in Jamaica … like the way they talk, the stuff they do.”

Coming to a new school in the middle of a school year while being a student-athlete is tough, but adapting is even more challenging, Teaberry said. Still, Teaberry said she’s seen Palmer warming up to those around her as she finds her comfort level.

“She’s welcomed the athletes, the coaching staff with open arms,” Teaberry said. “She’s very receptive to new ideas in training, and she works extremely hard. … With the challenges that she had with just things being different I think she did very well in adjustment.”


Palmer’s indoor season didn’t go nearly as well as she had hoped. Her plan coming in was to make nationals in the high jump during the indoor season. She came up short in that respect as she finished in eighth place in the high jump at the MAC Championships on March 27-28.

“It’s at times been fine,” Palmer said. “I didn’t perform as well as I expected due to the changes in the environment and everything. I didn’t perform well in my indoor season, but when I went to the MAC [Indoor Championships] … I actually placed [on the podium], so that made me feel good.”

Palmer the competitor is the same as Palmer the person in that she doesn’t sugarcoat anything, Bigby said.

“Personally, she is humble,” Bigby said. “She’s kind of straightforward. If she believes in something she’s going to stick to that. I think she’s a person who will lead you in the right way. If she believes that something is wrong she will tell you upfront.”

Things have slowly begun to turn in a more positive direction for Palmer with the beginning of the outdoor season March 20. Palmer’s best high jump during the indoor season was 1.70 meters; she topped that in the second outdoor meet March 28 with a jump of 1.71 meters. She automatically qualified for the MAC Outdoor Championships during the first outdoor meet March 20-21 with a jump of 1.68 meters.

“Since the outdoor season began I started to feel better,” Palmer said. “I think that’s just because I’m used to competing outdoors in my country. So, I feel like my performance is going to get better now.”

Palmer’s goal for the outdoor season is to make nationals. She also wants to represent Jamaica at the World Championships from Aug. 22-30 in Beijing, China.

“I really love my country,” Palmer said. “More now that I’m not living there I appreciate it more. It would really be a pleasure for me to represent my country.”

Teaberry said she’s been impressed with how much hard work and dedication Palmer has poured into the high jump to potentially represent Jamaica at the World Championships.

“She’s very critical and hard on herself because she wants to be the best,” Teaberry said. “She wants to represent her country this summer, so she has very high expectations of herself, which you would hope all Div. I athletes would have.

“She’s very adamant on making her country’s team in the high jump. She really wants to do that. She’s very critical about her technique and wanting to be the best, so that she can get to that point, so that makes her very focused, very determined and very hard working.”

Outside of the high jump, Palmer had been practicing the triple jump, but she never competed in it until March 28. She jumped 11.21 meters in her first attempt. She recorded a jump of 10.85 meters for 11th place April 3-4 at the EIU Big Blue Classic and a jump of 10.38 meters to take second place at the Chicagoland Outdoor Championships on April 10-11.


Palmer, a pre-nursing major, continues to transition to life in the classroom, where she said the grading is unlike that in Jamaica.

“The academics [are] different because the grading system in my country’s different from here,” Palmer said. “To get an A here is 90 [percent]; to get an A in my country is 80 percent. So, I have to work twice as hard just to get an A here than I would in Jamaica.”

Palmer has taken that as a challenge to push herself in the classroom, just as she has on the field.

“As hard as she is on herself about her athletics she’s the same way about her academics,” Teaberry said. “That’s what coaches love to see.”