Making home improvement Mullings finds a niche: Howard High long jumper feels lucky to have landed in the home of Cheryl and Richard Alexander.

April 14, 1996|By Stan Rappaport | Stan Rappaport,SUN STAFF

Donna Mullings stood in the Howard High parking lot last September crying. Her ride had left without her after a football game.

If only it was that simple.

A year had passed since Mullings came to the United States from Jamaica. It was a rocky 12 months, made more difficult by her living situation here.

When Mullings enrolled as a junior at Howard in September of 1994, she stayed with a friend of her mother. It didn't work out.

"It is difficult for me to talk about what happened," Mullings said.

So there she stood in the Howard High parking lot, distraught and looking like she had no place to turn. A year of frustration running down her cheeks.

Genny Gissentaner, a Howard High parent, saw Mullings in the parking lot and asked how she could help. After learning of Mullings' difficult situation, Gissentaner asked her friend, Cheryl Alexander, if she would be willing to help. Translation: Do you have a spare room?

"My husband [Richard] and I met Donna several times," said Alexander, who has 9-year-old twin sons, Brent and Ryan. "We felt really good about her."

The Alexanders said yes, and Mullings jumped at the opportunity.

It was one of her best jumps that never got recorded.

"It was very smart for me to leave," said Mullings, who has a student visa. "The people I first moved in with were Jamaican and I am Jamaican, and they acted like that to me. I don't know why. The Alexanders were strangers and they acted toward me like I was one of their own."

"We treat her as one of our own," Alexander said.

That is why when Mullings leaves for college in August, most likely on a full track scholarship to either the University of Florida, Texas A&M, Iowa or Houston, the Alexanders will have mixed emotions.

"We'll be happy that she's moving on, and we will keep in touch with her, but it will be sad. We definitely will miss her," Alexander said.

But before she heads to college, the 5-foot-8 1/2 , 150-pound senior has some unfinished business. At last year's state track and field meet, Mullings finished second in the long jump and triple jump. She expects to win this season.

"I don't like to lose," said Mullings, who dreams of competing in the 2000 Olympics. "Right now, I know I'm focused. I know there is nothing in my way to bother me."

She is an accomplished runner as well, and last season finished first in the county and fourth in the state in the 200. But that is not what she likes best.

"She is a jumper," said Howard girls coach Joe Thomas. "That is her trademark."

Another well-known attribute is her physique -- lean, strong and powerful.

"She's by far the strongest and most powerful athlete I've ever coached," said Thomas, who has coached girls track for six seasons. "When she jumps, she just explodes off the board."

Mullings, named Howard County's girls performer of the year for the recent indoor season thanks to her runing ability, will compete in the long jump at the Penn Relays in less than two weeks.

It was at the Penn Relays two years ago as a member of her Jamaican high school team that she met some Howard athletes and began thinking of coming to America.

Mullings, who has long-jumped over 19 feet and triple-jumped 39 feet, grew up on a farm. Her father died when she was young, and her mother moved away to get a job. Mullings lived with her grandmother and many relatives in a modest house. Her mother sent money, some of which went to pay for Mullings' schooling, which in Jamaica is not free.

After years of feeling poorly about herself, Mullings discovered around the age of 12 that she had a gift. She began to take track seriously.

Her accomplishments in track grew, and after returning from her trip to the Penn Relays, she discussed moving to the U.S. with her grandmother.

"I'm here on a mission," said Mullings, who plans to major in nursing at college and become a U.S. citizen. "I want to run track, go to college and better myself as a person."

Mullings, a shy and private person, has come far in the past seven months.

"I remember the first night she was with us and we sat down at the dinner table," Alexander said. "Donna was in the living room and we told her to sit with us."

"It's OK if I eat with you?" Mullings said.

Today, Mullings, who has a room in the basement of the Alexanders' townhouse, doesn't ask questions. She acts as if she is at home.

And she is.

"She's just been wonderful," Alexander said.

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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