Leap of faith: Zimbabwean triple-jumper, ranked first in US, approaches Catholic faith with same focus

Chengetayi Mapaya

FORT WORTH — When Chengetayi “Du” Mapaya launches himself into the triple jump during a competition, he carries his Catholic faith with him in his heart and in the rosary that soars with him around his neck.

Mapaya, 23, is an athlete from Zimbabwe who is a senior on Texas Christian University’s 17th-ranked track team in Fort Worth. He is the No.1-ranked triple jumper in the United States this year and ranks among the top 10 jumpers in the world. His best effort is a 56-foot-3-inch (17.145 meter) jump.

A six-time All-American and NCAA outdoor triple jump champion, he finished third in the triple jump in the NCAA indoor track and field championship in Birmingham, Alabama this weekend.

The triple jump is a highly technical event in which the athlete speeds down a runway and then executes a hop, in which the athlete takes off and then lands on the same foot; a step, landing on the other foot; and then a jump into a sand-filled pit.

Gabe Gutierrez, campus minister of the TCU Newman Center, said Mapaya is a regular attendee at Mass and is an altar server and a reader.

Mapaya is “very driven, very focused, very disciplined,” Gutierrez said.

“I think to succeed in the ways that he has succeeded, it demands sacrifice and dedication,” Gutierrez said. “I think that’s just the way that he lives his life and that carries over into all aspects of his life, including his faith.”

Mapaya says his devout faith is because of his parents, who made sure he regularly attended Mass in his home country.

Zimbabwe is in southern Africa and is known for its dramatic landscape and a diversity of wildlife. Among its most impressive natural sites is the famous Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. Roughly 8 percent of the 15 million people who live in Zimbabwe are Roman Catholic.

“Now it’s a part of me. I feel like without it, I’m lost,” he said. “So, I just go every Sunday; I always have to go to church. You know, it’s something that’s like, ‘being in me.’”

“I’ve always had a rosary because I feel like it guides me, just like [having] good faith,” he said. “My parents told me to just stay true to myself and keep going to church and keep staying close to God.”

The star athlete said that when he came to Fort Worth, “I couldn’t just stop [attending Mass]. Luckily, there was a chapel close by, so I figured that out and started going every single week.”

Mapaya made his way to Fort Worth the same way many college athletes find a home.

“I was recruited from Zimbabwe and that’s how I knew of TCU; I actually didn’t know much about it. I received some offers from some schools,” Mapaya said.

Mapaya and TCU were an instant fit, and he found a second home at which he could pursue the sport he embraced as a young teenager.

“I mean, I love it. It’s amazing,” Mapaya said of TCU and Fort Worth. He noted how great the facilities and coaches are at TCU and how that’s helped him improve in his event.

“The facilities that I have here, and the coaches are really top notch, you know, so just like the knowledge they have of the sport is way bigger than what it is in Zimbabwe. So, it has been amazing, to be honest,” Mapaya said.

TCU Assistant Track Coach Shawn Jackson, who coaches the team’s jumpers, agrees that Mapaya is always humble, even though he is arguably the best athlete on the TCU track team.

“He’s really carried the manners of his parents in terms of being respectful and making sure that he’s respectful to everyone,” Jackson said.

Mapaya “just comes from a different background, always working hard, and not taking things for granted, which a lot of us do,” Jackson said. Mapaya is always supportive of and encouraging to his teammates, Jackson said.

Jackson said that Mapaya is extremely coachable, even though he is a world-class athlete.

“You’re able to administer discipline on him. He accepts it,” Jackson said. “So therefore, nobody else has any excuse, because [Mapaya] doesn’t get any. He doesn’t get any special privileges because he’s a national champion. So, then your other group of athletes can see you’re just as hard on him as anybody else.”

As part of his focus on excellence, Mapaya adheres to a strict daily schedule.

“I wake up at 7 a.m. every single day then I pray,” Mapaya said. “Then after that I do my stretches for 10 minutes, then I meditate. By 7:40, I leave the house and I go and do rehab for my legs because I’ve got some knee problems, so I have to make sure I keep my body right. I go see my physiotherapist and we work for like an hour from 8 to 8:50. Then I run to class from 9 to 11. Then I come back home and prepare a sandwich.”

Then, Mapaya goes to see his physiotherapist again. Then he practices until 4:30 p.m., followed by a visit to the weight room from 4:30 to 5:30. Then it’s a return to the training room until about 6:15 p.m. when he goes to the athletics cafeteria for dinner until about 7:15.

Mapaya then goes home for a shower and homework. After playing video games, he’s in bed by 10 to 10:30 p.m. All of that, just to get ready for the next day’s work.

When Mapaya graduates from TCU, he said he plans to compete on the professional track and field circuit.




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