by Andrew Garda
As Montclair resident and future LaSalle University student Jerika Lufrano stood in an operating theater, observing a hysterectomy procedure, she knew she was a long way from the cross country and track meets she competed in for Union Catholic High School.
However, she also knew she was exactly where she was supposed to be.
“My dad said that one thing that’s unique about me is I’m always there to help people even if I don’t know them,” she said after witnessing the operation. “So, I thought a physician’s assistant would be great.”
Lufrano, who is currently interning at a gynecologist’s office and also got a chance to observe a pregnancy that occurred in a patient’s fallopian tubes, has always been driven.
She pushed herself to succeed in track and cross country at UC where she was a state champion in winter track this past year running the 1600, and earned first team all group in Non-Public A as well as second team All State in the 1600.
Lufrano’s dedication also helped her overcome a metatarsal inflammation, which sidelined her for 10 days, to come back and place second in the Union County championships in October, only the second female County Cross Country Champion from Union Catholic ever.
It’s part of what set her on the path to LaSalle and, down the road, becoming a physician’s assistant and nurse.
Another part is preparation. If a distance runner is going to be any good at track or cross country, they have to be prepared. They do that with long miles on the road combined with other workouts to enhance their body and mind for the grueling effort it takes to finish distance races.
As Lufrano is doing that preparing for the cross country season she’ll take part in as a freshman for LaSalle University, she’s bringing that same approach to her studies.
“Last year I took anatomy so I could know stuff about the human body and terminology,” she said. “And now I’m working in a doctor’s office, I get to be in an operating room next to the patient who is getting the surgery and I understood a lot of it.
Lufrano said she found the hysterectomy procedure fascinating, and perhaps not what people expect compared to what they see on television shows.
“It’s funny, the thing about surgery is when they make the incision, there’s not a lot of blood, because they drain it as well,” she explained. “And because you’re so deep in the body, you’re past the blood vessels so there’s not a lot of blood anyway.”
Balancing the pursuit of a health science degree with an intention to move up to medical and hospital work along with competing and training for cross country is a tough thing to do, so picking the right school was critical for Lufrano.
After visits to the University of Arizona and the University of San Francisco, where she got to run with three-time Olympian Shannon Rowbury, Lufrano stepped on the LaSalle campus in North Philadelphia and knew she was home.
“I loved the coaches so much, and I felt like I could be myself around them,” she recalled.
The coaching staff’s training process meshed well with what had worked for Lufrano at UC as well.
“They run a lot less miles than a lot of other colleges do,” she said. “So that’s how they keep the kids from not being injured, which is what my coach [at Union Catholic] did and I was able to go through my whole high school career without being injured for more than ten days so that was one thing I really liked.”
Lufrano also felt comfortable in the smaller school atmosphere, which LaSalle has.
After a storied high school career, Lufrano is looking to amp it up as she hits college both in the classroom and on the track. Running, she wants to continue to push her mile time further and further below the five minute mark.
And down the road and with a degree, she wants to make sure she’s ready to help people stay healthy and heal.