Santiago and track followers should be on first-name basis
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Her first name may be difficult to pronounce, but her accomplishments are easy to recognize.
Kahuku junior Zhane Santiago is the premier hurdler in the state, bursting on the scene as a freshman, winning the 100- and 300-meter hurdles. She repeated as 100-meter state champion last season, dropping out of the 300 because of injury.
She also won the state triple jump the past two seasons.
Even with the amount of medals she collected over the years, announcers, supporters and fans are still having a hard time correctly pronouncing her name.
"I got used to it over time; if people call me the wrong name, I just answer to it," Santiago said. "I've heard Zane, Zahane, Shane, and Za-ne, and that's close enough."
The first part the name Zha is pronounced Jha. Sort of like combining the "shhh" sound and Ja. The second part ne is pronounced nay.
Her last name is more familiar. As are her bloodlines.
"When I go places, people are like, 'You're related to (University of Hawai'i strength and conditioning coordinator) Tommy Heffernan?' " Santiago says. "If I wear a Manti (Te'o) shirt, people ask me if we're related, and I'm like, 'Yeah.' "
Santiago's father, Louis or "Keala", was a football, basketball, and track and field athlete at Kahuku in the '80s. Keala and Te'o's mother, Ottilia, are siblings.
Her mother, Anue, is a cousin to Heffernan.
Kahuku track and field coach Garth Spurrier said it is Santiago's work ethic and maybe something a little extra that sets her apart.
"I know her as being very easy to work with, no problems, she's a hard worker," he said. "She's pretty much what all of us look for in an athlete. She's easy to work with, no real attitude.
"A lot of it is ability, a lot of people would say it's genes. The Heffernans and Santiagos are pretty athletic families in this part of the neighborhood."
Even with her family's athletic background, Zhane stood out.
"When she was young she was the youngest of all of her cousins and sisters she caught our attention by being as fast as the older kids, when she was maybe 6 or 7 years old," said her dad, who helps out with the track and field team. "From that age, we knew she would be something special."
He cultivated that talent by entering Zhane in youth track and field clubs, and by coaching her.
Keala took his three daughters to football and track practices, where he coached at Kahuku High, and let them participate in offseason training programs, like ladders and cones.
"I would just throw them in the drills," he said. "The coaches looked at me like I was crazy. But I told them, 'I don't have boys.' "
"It was pretty scary, but when you start to get to know them and they get to know you, then it's fun because they crack jokes," Zhane said. "It felt pretty good working out with a bunch of big guys."
It was at those practices where Santiago first tried hurdles.
"I was scared. I didn't know how to jump it," said Santiago, who was about 8 at the time. "The first time, I was really, really scared.
"I didn't have any technique whatsoever. I fell a couple of times but it was just a matter of picking myself up and trying again. I wanted to finish the day doing it perfectly."
That dedication carried on throughout her career. She dealt with injuries to her quad the past few years, and is feeling healthier now at this point in the season than ever before.
Santiago is expected to compete in both hurdles events, the long and triple jumps, and possibly the high jump and 100-meter dash this week at the O'ahu Interscholastic Association Track and Field championships at Kaiser High School. Trials are tomorrow and the finals Saturday.
She has the fastest time in the 300 hurdles this year (47.09 seconds) and the top triple jump (37 feet, 1 inch) and follows close behind Hawai'i Prep senior Ku'uipo Nakoa in the 100 hurdles (15.60), with a hand-timed mark of 15.04.
Santiago said she feels pressure, but is "just focusing on running the race and once I start I just block everyone out. I just pray and look at the end and picture myself finishing through.
"I just want to finish hard and not give up. I want to finish with a smile."