A blue Lane Community College track jump suit covers Lane freshman high jumper Dakarai Hightower’s 6’4” slender frame. With jet black curly hair, and a little bit of stubble on his chin, Hightower has the looks of a typical young man. But he is anything but typical when he’s in the high jump pit. As soon as Hightower takes a couple of deep breaths, he’s off running towards history.
In the past two weeks, he has broken and re-broken the Lane high jump record. He first did so at Hayward Field on April 18, when he cleared 7’0.25″ and then topped his own record at the April 24 Titan twilight with a leap of 7’1.5.” Kelly Graham’s record leap of 7’00.5 had stood since 1976, but Hightower toppled it in just his second meet.
“Dakarai is a phenomenal talent. He has huge expectations every time he steps on the track. We’re really trying to work on his mental focus,” head coach Grady O’Connor said.
Hightower was born and raised in Tacoma, Wash. It was there that he discovered his love of sports — one in particular.
“I played basketball and football growing up for fun, but I’ve always been a onesport athlete,” Hightower said. “I figured if I was going to do one sport I might as well try and be the best.”
Hightower’s drive to be the best began at the middle school level. There, he first watched his older brother Martese Hightower, who was competing on the track and field team at Bellarmine Preparatory School.
“When I was in middle school, I originally wanted to play baseball,” Hightower said. “When I watched Martese run, it made me want to try track.”
Hightower’s first introduction to high jump came at an unexpected time: during his freshman year of high school at Curtis Senior.
“I was just hanging out on the infield before one of Martese’s track meets, waiting for him to come out, when all of a sudden one of my friends dared me to go jump six feet,” he said.
It was a moment that would change the way Hightower looked at sports.
“I wasn’t even in track apparell. I had on basketball shorts, and Air Jordans, and then I just cleared six feet like ait was nothing,” Hightower said.
From that moment on, Hightower began to take track and field seriously. He was new to the sport, but began to show steady improvement. During his junior season, he jumped 6’4 and finished 10th at state.
In his first event of his senior year at Clover Park, Wash. ,Hightower made a jump that would become a turning point in his career.
“They almost cancelled the high jump. The weather was awful,” Hightower said. “It was cold and the high jump pit was flooded.”
Despite the tough conditions, Hightower persevered and jumped 6’10”, easily high enough to give him the victory.
“Clover was really where I realized I could jump at the next level. To jump 6’10 in those conditions really gave me a ton of confidence moving forward,” Hightower said.
Hightower improved throughout the remainder of the season, winning all of his events with the exception of the BorderDuel Track Clasic, an end of the year meet between Oregon and Washington’s top athletes.
However, it was in the summer after his senior year, that his jumping ability really soared. Hightower set the highest mark in the nation for a high school jumper and won the Junior Olympic Nationals, in Baltimore Md. with a leap of 7’3″.
Hightower doesn’t remember much about the jump itself, but he’ll never forget the atmosphere inside Morgan State University’s Hughes Stadium.
“Baltimore was actually my second attempt at 7’3″, and the entire stadium was clapping,” Hightower said. “The stadium was in an uproar. They actually had to hold off the 200 meters until I was finished. That’s definitely a moment I’ll never forget.”
After the Junior Olympics, Hightower made the decision to take a year off from school in 2013 to give himself a break.
“I did an indoor season with the University of Washington unattached,” Hightower said. “I also did a couple of meets at Hayward Field and some local meets around Tacoma.”
The year off allowed Hightower the time to see what being a collegiate high jumper was like. Specifically, he was able to compare the ability of jumping indoors versus jumping outdoors.
“It really depends on where you go,” Hightower said. “The East Coast is a lot different than jumping at (University of Washington). At UW, it really caters to guys who are power jumpers. I like to use my speed more, but it was a great experience to compare the differences between the two in that year off.”
After the year off, Hightower still had to decide where to compete with his collegiate eligibility. A recommendation from his good friend Jemiel Lowery, who was a sprinter at Lane for two years, first turned Hightower in the Titans’ direction. After several team workouts, Hightower felt like his decision had been made.
“I really liked the team environment and the overall coaching staff,” Hightower said. “It almost felt like I was back home. I felt welcome here.”
Dakarai Hightower is a man with an easy smile and approachable personality. Whether he pursues high jump professionally or not, his future looks bright, but the humble man isn’t about to get ahead of himself.
“I’ve put all my eggs in this basket,” Hightower said. “I haven’t thought about my future much. I want to go to a Division I school later on. But right now I’m just focusing on the present.”