Basketball-turned-track star Tamara Grahovac learned that even the most unprecedented of events can lead to great things. Born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Grahovac, a general biology major and chemistry minor, originally started out as a basketball player but eventually turned her sights to track.
“I started [track] in my sophomore year of high school,” Grahovac, Penn track and field junior, said. “I had played competitive basketball for three years and I just decided to do it for my school outdoor season randomly at the end of my freshman year. Then I made Team Ontario which is kind of like [in the] states like making a state team. Then, right away, I fell in love with it, I fell in love with the sport, the people, and then I started my sophomore year competitively training for track.”
Eventually, Grahovac found her place in jumps, more specifically the triple jump. This was not her first choice, however, as she did have to jump around to find triple jump as her calling.
“So I had done triple jump, like I had tried it in middle school and I remember the coaches saying that this is a really hard event and it's really technical and it's kind of hard to get into and get used to, but I picked it up from the first jump,” Grahovac said. “I did the very first jump and so I just kind of was like, ‘This is kind of meant to be.‘"
After finally getting established in track in college, COVID-19 hit and changed everything for Grahovac.
She had originally started track in 2018 at Central Michigan University before deciding to transfer to Penn. However, Grahovac transferred too late, so she was forced to take a gap year in 2019-2020, her sophomore year, where she spent the time wondering if she would even make it to Penn because of the restrictions that the United States had on international students.
Still, she spent time training in her small garage. It didn’t help that the original Penn track coach left to go to Dartmouth.
Luckily for Grahovac, Penn hired new coaches who helped the athletes transition back into track after the long hiatus.
“Coach Moose helped with the sprints and jumps group and then Coach Townsend did a crash course in training with us when we got back in order to make up for the time we were away,” Grahovac said. “I did a lot of garage training when I was at home because Canada's really cold and it was snowing, so I had a really limited space where I was on a stationary bike for months, but I ended up [setting a personal record] by a whole meter, which was unexpected.”
Since then, Grahovac has felt at peace with the specific event that she’s chosen and she owes it all to her inspirations in the track world: long jumper Ivana Španović and Venezuelan triple jump champion Yulimar Rojas.
"I look up to [Španović] because she's Serbian and I’m Serbian, so she represents Serbia and she's put us on the map when it comes to athletics," Grahovac said. "Then of course Yulimar Rojas. She's amazing and I just love her energy, and she's improved every single year and she's incredible.”
Off the field, Grahovac intends to offer a high level of support to up-and-coming track athletes. To her, it’s important for them to trust and care for themselves because no one knows them like they do.
“Put your head down, train as hard as you can, and at the end of the day, always trust yourself,” Grahovac said. “There are a lot of signs that I feel like athletes don't look for because they think about too much of what other people tell them is wrong, or tell them to fix, or you should be doing this and that. Trust yourself: You know your body and your mind the best, so take care of yourself.”