By Thomas Gase tgase@theacorn.com

MATT WHEALEN/Special to The Acorn LEAP OF FAITH- Agoura Hills resident Hayden Yenche, 11, has become a standout high jumper after only two years of training. Yenche recently qualified for the Junior Olympics at Mount SAC.
When 11-year-old Hayden Yenche first began competing in track and field in 2005, he wasn't sure what event he wanted to do the most. Stuck with a tough decision, Yenche decided to give all the events a try.

When I first started track and field I didn't know what I wanted to do besides run cross country, Yenche said. People told me I would get a trophy if I competed in every event, so that's what I did. And that's how I got into high jumping.

Two years later, Yenche is now reaching new heights in high jumping. Last month, the Agoura Hills resident received the biggest award of them all when he qualified for the United States Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships this week at Mount San Antonio College.

Yenche earned the trip up north when he leapt a personal high of 4 feet, 9 inches at Cerritos College in Norwalk. Yenche's previous personal best was 4 feet, 7 inches.

I was shocked and stunned that I earned a trip to the Junior Olympics, Yenche said. Everyone in Cerritos was a foot taller than me and a year older than me, so I didn't expect to do as well as I did.

Although Yenche wasn't sure at the beginning of the day if he would qualify for the Junior Olympics, he did feel good on his first jump of the meet.

It felt good because I had never jumped that high before, Yenche said. I just barely missed hitting the bar, but I knew I was good.

Yenche is no stranger to the Junior Olympics. He qualified for the games three years ago in Rhode Island as a cross-country runner. It first hit Yenche that he may be a good athlete on the track when he prepared for the start of the race in Rhode Island.

I lined up and there were so many people running, probably around 500 (although his mom, Michele, said it was closer to 300), looking to win, Yenche said. It was weird being there with so many people, but it was fun making the trip because I don't get the chance to go to other states that often.

This year, Yenche said he's more relaxed about attending the games the second time around. Peter Korn, Yenche's coach at United Track, and his mom, a former track star at Cal State Fullerton, have also helped him progress.

Although Yenche is now excelling in the high jump, he said he likes running cross country just as much. He often runs with his mom in the woods in the mornings.

It's amazing to see him do well in the high jump and make the Junior Olympics, Michele Yenche said. He has total dedication and always wants to come out and practice, even on days he is not scheduled to.

Another way Yenche has been preparing for the games is by spending time with his United Track Club friends Adam Augustyn and Zachary Bornstein, who will also be competing in the Junior Olympics.

I like practicing with them because they help me with my stance and they give me confidence by cheering me at meets, Yenche said. It will be fun to go the Junior Olympics with them.