For her first three years at Memorial High School, Paola Bodano was primarily a basketball player.
“Basketball was my favorite sport,” Bodano said. “I would have to say I was a basketball player.”
But Bodano also participated in track and field.
“I ran track just to stay in shape,” Bodano said. “I ran track basically to get ready for basketball.”
However, the coaching staff at Memorial saw something different in Bodano.
“I knew she was a good basketball player,” said Memorial girls’ track and field coach Delia Durango. “I didn’t know any of her other skills. I asked her to come to the weight room to work out and I could see that she was so serious. After we were finished in the weight room, she kept coming. She was so aggressive and I thought that was very different for a girl. She reminded me of a football player.”
Durango should know – because she’s married to Bryan Durango, the former football star at Memorial who went on to become the 2001-2002 Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year who went on to play football at Rutgers.
“She was determined to be the best at whatever she did,” Delia Durango said.
Durango said that Bodano had already informed the coach that Bodano no longer wanted to run track.
“She said she had enough,” Durango said. “She wanted to concentrate on basketball.”
“I wasn’t even thinking about track at all,” Bodano said. “I was done.”
Bodano was preparing to apply to colleges with architecture programs like Syracuse and the University of Miami.
But then Durango contacted New Jersey Institute of Technology track coach Al Alonso and told Alonso about Bodano.
It helped that Bodano had a 3.88 grade point average and a score of 1,730 on her Scholastic Aptitude Tests.
“She really embodies the student/athlete,” Durango said. “She’s one of the best athletes we have in Memorial High School. I thought anything was possible.”
“I contacted NJIT and applied for the architecture program there,” Bodano said. “It’s a very good program. I was fortunate to get in.”
Durango never put any restrictions upon Bodano.
“She never told me that I had to give up playing basketball,” Bodano said. “She’s a really good coach. I loved how the team was and I decided to stay with them. She helped me a lot.”
Durango then provided Alonso with Bodano’s achievements in cross country and track and field.
In cross country, Bodano ran a personal best time of 21:22.30 in the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships.
In indoor track and field, Bodano finished sixth in the county in the high hurdles. In the spring, she was proficient in the 400-meter hurdles, the 100-meter hurdles and the triple jump.
Bodano was fourth in the triple jump and third in the 100 and 400-meter hurdles at the HCTCA Relays.
Her finest moment came in the North Hudson Championships, where Bodano won the 400-meter hurdles, helped the Tigers to win the 4×400-meter relay, was second in the 800-meter run and third in the 100-meter hurdles.
At the HCTCA championships, Bodano was third in the triple jump, fifth in the 400-meter hurdles and helped the Tigers take fourth in the 4×400-meter relay.
It was a combination of her athletic skill and academic prowess that enabled Bodano to gain a scholarship to NJIT and Tuesday, she signed her national letter of intent to attend the school in the fall.
In Bodano’s case, it was better late than never.
“She had never even jumped a hurdle before this year,” Durango said. “She long jumped and triple jumped as well. She became a role model for everyone else on the team. She didn’t want to run anymore and she ended up being our best runner. It’s a perfect example of when you think you’ve done it all and think you’ve had enough, you can still achieve. It’s truly remarkable.”
Needless to say, Bodano never dreamed that she would become an NCAA Division I scholarship athlete.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” Bodano said. “I was just fortunate to get into NJIT’s architecture program. It’s one of only two schools in New Jersey that has it. It’s a five-year program with internships. I was applying to other schools as a backup, but I really wanted to go to NJIT and now I’m happy to say I’ll be running track in college. I’m surprised by it all.”
Bodano visited NJIT in Newark recently and found that she liked the campus, liked the environment and liked the students.
“I met some of the track athletes and we really got along,” Bodano said. “Some of the athletes there are from Hudson County, so that helped. The school is not too big and I liked that. I’m just glad they noticed me. I know I haven’t run my best. I know I can get better.”
But as for getting a scholarship?
“I’m just glad that my hard work paid off,” Bodano said. “I never thought any of this was possible.”
Bodano knows that she will more than likely concentrate on the hurdles in college. But one never knows.
“I’m really happy how this all turned out,” Bodano said. “I would have to say I was pretty fortunate.”
Bodano will major in urban architecture.
“It’s funny, but ever since I was little, I always thought about becoming an architect,” Bodano said. “I think it more had to do with the art and design than the building. But that’s what I wanted to do. It looked like a lot more fun.”
“In life, if you have the motivation, then anything is possible,” Durango said. “She’s living proof of that.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com. This week’s blog will feature a retrospect on 25 years at the Hudson Reporter and 31 years in Hudson County.