Cristóbal Marte, director of the Women’s Volleyball Selection, will never know, just how good Juana Arrendel could have been in this sport. He was amazed when in the summer of 1994, he saw in the 6’3” girl playing in the taraflex, during a Junior Volleyball training session. However, Cupid’s arrow had struck Juana’s heart and eyes in another direction.
“I’m sure she would’ve been a volleyball star. There’s no way she wouldn’t have made it,” Marte recalls.
She did not make it in volleyball, but she sure did make it in the high-jump.
It all began in San Pedro de Macorís, where the daughter of Pedro Rosario and Argentina Arrendel, helped in the daily house chores, located in the vicinity of the Porvenir Sugar Mill, where their ancestors had settled in the country, from the British Caribbean islands.“My mother used to say that when I was little, I was a spider monkey, that I liked to climb up everything I could think of,” the athlete remembers fondly. “She says that’s how she knew I’d be a jumper when I grew up.”
“WHEN I JUMPED, I FELT I COULD DO ANYTHING AND NOTHING WAS IMPOSSIBLE”
At age 14, her teacher, Luciano Álvarez, saw her potential to fulfill her mother’s prediction. The young girl had the perfect physique to perform the sport: height, jumping ability, speed and force, as if God had brought her to life to do this. In fact, with just barely 2 weeks of previous training, in 1992, she won a medal in the National Games of San Juan de la Maguana, with a 1.45m jump.
Álvarez concluded that Juana’s talent could take her places, so they decided to pack their bags and hit the road to Santo Domingo, where she joined the Dominican Track and Field Academy, under the tutelage of Cuban trainer Juan Hernández Clark.
In 1995, she excelled in the Pan American Youth Championship hosted in Trinidad and Tobago, and the possibility of competing at an international level, forever changed the way she saw the sport. “There wasn’t much of a high-jump culture here, but once there, I saw I could win, and this made me fall head over heels in love with the sport,” Arrendel recalls.“When jumping, I felt I could do anything. I felt nothing was impossible. I felt free.”
Clark took Juana to the max, reaching 9TH place together under Group 2 in the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, when she reached 1.80m.
But in 1997, she made another jump that took her career to a whole new level. She began training under Russian trainer, Natalya Korotaeva. Under her guidance, Arrendel soared. As a reference of her methods, with two training rounds per day, her sessions were so straining, that they caused the collapse of a little over 50 athletes that had begun the high-jump training program.
In the end, it was only Juana standing. Her daily routine consisted of trips from the Olympic Villa, the Olympic Center, and the school she attended at nighttime. “The sacrifices were many and demanding, but it was all worth it,” she affirms.
She demonstrated this during the Maracaibo 1998 Central American and Caribbean Games, where she won the gold after completing a 1.91m jump.
After becoming one of the favorites in the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, the predictions came true, when she jumped 1.93m, and took home the gold.
That medal did not hang around her neck for long. The doping tests carried out in the Games, came back positive for stanozolol, a performance-enhancing anabolic steroid. She was stripped of her medal, and penalized for two years by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
It was the worst moment in the career of the San Pedro-born athlete. “It was something that happened, and I will never forget it, but I am someone that always takes something positive out of the negative,” she explains today. “I overcame it, and showed good results afterwards.”
As a matter of fact, upon missing out on the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, after being sanctioned, she returned to the field in the Central American and Caribbean Games of San Salvador in 2002. There, she made the 1.97m jump, breaking the 1.96m record set 16 years ago by Silvia Acosta.
That same year, she added another gold medal to her collection, with a 1.95m jump during the Northern Central American and Caribbean Track and Field Championship, hosted in San Antonio, Texas. She won another medal in the Guatemala Hispanic-American Championship, where she made a 1.87m jump.
This performance alone marveled more than one. Her great comeback, she affirms, was due to her extensive training, and not to the motivation that her penalization served. “Hard work, that was it,” she says. “There’s nothing that speaks more about someone than hard work, because it will always render good results.”
This hard work showed off once again, when she won the gold right at home, in the Santo Domingo 2003 Pan American Games. To her, this is the most important medal of her entire career.
Despite her best record of the year (1.89m), she could not make it past 9TH place in Athens 2004. The gold was hers in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena de Indias 2006. In the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio, she made a 1.81m jump, to finish 6TH.
In 2008, despite making the minimum jump requirement, to make it to Beijing, Arrendel announced she was retiring, due to differences with the Dominican Association of Track and Field Federations. “I would have continued for another 4 years, but I don’t regret my decision. I enjoyed the sport to the fullest, and that was it for me.” In 2010, she officially retired.
Juana Arrendel is the best example of how far you can go. The most outstanding track and field athlete in the history of the Dominican Republic was exalted to the Hall of Fame of Dominican Sports in 2016, the year she became eligible. Not only did she get far, she became immortal.
Today, she lives in Santo Domingo, with her husband and her 5-year-old son, and she serves as colonel in the Dominican Armada. But she has not completely forgotten her discipline. Arrendel promotes female integration in sports, through her work in the Gender Sports Department of the Ministry of Sports and Recreation. Few people better than her, know just how high a Dominican female athlete can make it, when she sets her sights on accomplishing a goal and making it to the finish line.