LANSING | As T.F. South sophomore Jhaliyah Anderson glides down the runway of the long jump pit, there are people on both sides of the runway clapping as she takes her steps in anticipation of completing her jump.
The clapping is not applause, though it could be.
Maybe the scene is from surrealist Salvador Dali's 1937 painting "Palladios Thalia Corridor" in which people are on both sides of a corridor and a little girl is seen running in the sun. What is at the end of this corridor is sand where Anderson is to land upon completing her jump.
Instead, the people in the long jump area are clapping to give direction to Anderson, who is blind.
"That lets me know I am running straight," Anderson said. "We pace out my steps back with (assistant) Coach (Rich) Tarbunas and I count and go on five and jump.
"Sometimes, I do get off step and I go on four, off the wrong foot."
She also runs the 100-meter dash. She competes on the frosh-soph level in both events and competed in Thursday's South Suburban Blue Conference meet at Lemont.
Anderson's mom, Sonya, said Jhaliyah went blind at age 3. She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. The Mayo Clinic's website states that Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer that begins in the retina — the sensitive lining on the inside of the eye. Retinoblastoma most commonly affects young children, and is the most common form of cancer affecting the eye in children. Retinoblastoma may occur in one or both eyes.
Sonya Anderson said Jhaliyah remembers things like certain toys that she played with. As of right now, she said, there is no chance of getting her sight back.
"But, as science advances, you never know," Sonya said. "It was tough on me and my husband (Coleman), but you learn to adjust and do what is best for your child."
Jhaliyah Anderson said she just wants to run.
"I want to compete and I may have some shortcomings, but I am out there trying to win like everybody else," Jhaliyah Anderson said. "I love track and I love my teammates."
When she runs the 100, teammate Jasmine Scott runs alongside her and they hold hands. Getting in sync has been as tough as perfecting handoffs in a relay.
"We sometimes break (apart), but not too often," Scott said. "We have really worked at it and Jhaliyah is pretty fast, so I have to keep up with her."
Scott runs the hurdles and the 100 does not count against her number of events.
Anderson joked that Scott can't let go of her left hand.
"If she falls down, I don't know, I guess I would be running in the grass," Anderson said with a laugh. "We really work well together."
What made her go out for track?
"It was impromptu," Anderson said. "I wanted to go out for something. I ran at the Illinois School of the Visually Impaired (in Jacksonville), where I went from fifth through eighth grades. I wanted to see if I could run in a public school."
She attended Crete-Monee High School as a freshman, but did not run track.
Rebels head coach Steve Nelson said he was approached by Jessica Duer, from the ECHO program, telling him Anderson was interested in running track.
"I admit, I didn't know because I had never coached a visually impaired person," Nelson said. "When I spoke to her, I was immediately struck by the fact that nothing was going to hold her back. When I told her I was going to push her to do everything the team did because and make her better even though she had missed conditioning, she said that’s exactly what she wanted.
"Jhaliyah has been an inspiration to me personally because there is no quit in her. She gives everything she has no matter what she is doing and nothing is going to stop her."
Scott said the same thing.
"She comes out here and works every day," Scott said. "It is an inspiration for us to see her out here, knowing she is at a disadvantage, but she doesn't see it that way."
Anderson said she has books in Braille and her computer has Braille instead of a screen.
The Illinois High School Association makes provisions for athletes with disabilities and assistant executive director in charge of boys and girls track Ron McGraw said the IHSA would accommodate a visually impaired athlete, though Anderson will not be entered into the Class 3A Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional on May 9.
"The school just has to let us know in writing and what accommodations need to be made," McGraw said. "As long as that athlete finishes first or second in an event (track) or hits the qualifying time or standards, they qualify."