Preparing for the summer Olympics has been challenging. With the Chinese Communist Party Virus outbreak postponing the 2020 Games by a year, and some athletes disrespecting the U.S. flag, many Americans are arguably less enthused than usual.
However, different stories remind people why they watch. They inspire fans to support American athletes despite what happens in the world and keep returning for people like Quanesha Burks.
Burks is a member of the U.S. Olympic team and will compete in long jump at Tokyo, Japan where she hopes to collect a medal and honor the Land of the Free.
The Alabaman revealed it was a challenging journey to realize her dream of becoming a full-time professional long jumper.
Burks and her siblings were raised by their grandparents in the 14,000-strong town of Hartselle, about 158 miles north of Montgomery.
Her early years were difficult as she watched her family live paycheck to paycheck. When she was 17-year-old her days began at 4:30 a.m., when she drove her grandmother for about half-an-hour to work at a nursing home. She would then wake up her sisters, prepare them for school, and drop them off. After class she practiced jumping and worked at the local McDonald’s.
“When I worked at McDonald’s I thought it was the best job ever,” she said according to Sports Illustrated. “I was making $100 every two weeks. It is terrible [when I say it now] but I came to work everyday happy, and I knew it was all part of my goal to go to college.”
Burks realized her classmates at Hartselle High School were using sports to win college scholarships. A family friend bought her basketball shoes, and she aspired to play for University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summit.
Another classmate encouraged Burks to try out for track season and bought her running spikes, so she could compete in sprinting and jumping. She decided to continue competing after winning third place in the 2012 U.S.A. Track and Field National Junior Olympics to pursue college studies.
“I remember looking up the requirements to earn a full scholarship and I wrote those goals down,” Burks said according to the publication. “I jumped 20 feet and that is when everything changed.”
After practice she started work at McDonald’s, where she was rostered from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.–the latest time high school students are permitted to work. She worked early-morning shifts on weekends, and used her savings to help her grandmother pay motor vehicle insurance premiums.
Burks’s drive to help her family almost lost her the very scholarships she sought. When Mississippi State coach Steve Dudley could not find Burks at home for a recruitment visit, he went to McDonald’s and waited for her break to speak with her. Although Coach Miguel Pate of Alabama called her many times while she was worked at the drive-thru window, she always finished her duties before returning his recruitment calls.
“Coach Pate actually had to sit me down with my high school coach, Kenny Lopez, and guidance counselor, so I could understand how my life was going to change and I would not need to work at McDonald’s [anymore,]” Burks said according to the Daily Wire.
Despite the proposition, Burks did not resign from her job until she had already won 11 state medals including the 100-meter dash, long jump, and triple jump sweep as a senior.
She was first in her family to attend college and went on to have a tremendous career at Alabama. She set school records, earned All-America accolades, and won the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s outdoor and indoor long jump championships in both 2015 and 2016. Her biography on RollTide.com has a total of 27 bullet points in the awards section. She now wants to work as a professional long jumper on a full-time basis.
Burks began her sporting career after experiencing a variety of hurdles along the way.
In 2018, she finished fourth in the World Athletic Indoor Championships, just 0.04 meters short of the podium (1.5 inches). One year later, a week before the U.S.A. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, she lost her grandfather who was the “only dad I had in my life.” On July 25, 2019, he was laid to rest and she flew to Des Moines to compete two days later. However, she was unable to complete the jump and thus missed out on competing in the 2019 World Championships.
Burks bounced back on Feb. 15, 2020, when she won the U.S. indoor title. However, the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, were canceled and the CCP Virus pandemic quickly wiped out her outdoor season. She continued to train until a bone bruise in her femur sidelined her for 11 weeks, preventing her from running or jumping.
“It felt like all the odds were against me,” she said according to the Daily Wire. “At one point, my coach told me, ‘I do not know if you are going to physically be able to go to the trials.’ The doctors did not know if I would be back in time [either.]”
“I was seeing some specialists and they did not have much hope in me at all. I was facing so much but I kept going back to when I worked at McDonald’s. I had my goals set and I knew I could do it,” she added.
She entered the U.S. Olympic Trials as a long shot to make the team since she was rated 11th in the country during 2021.
Burks’s hard work and dedication paid off when she set a personal best of 6.96 meters, qualifying her for the U.S. Olympic team.
Brittney Reese and Tara Davis, two other long jumpers, will accompany her to Tokyo. Burks still makes a point of remembering her humble origins.
“It is a blessing to be like one from my home town in a small community, really just representing myself but Hartselle, the University of Alabama and the state of Alabama,” she said according to WHNT. “Knowing that I am representing us in Tokyo is just a blessing, it is an honor and I am so proud of the other Olympians.”
Going to the Olympics means more to Burks than just winning a medal.
Hartselle native Quanesha Burks (@strongbelieverQ) is headed to the Tokyo Olympics, and her goals go far beyond medaling.— Rocco DiSangro (@RoccoDiSangro) July 2, 2021
“I just want to instill confidence in so many people to know that if you have a goal, set a plan and you can do it.”
Take a listen ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/gnvMNoe2Ka
“I just want to instill confidence in so many people to know that if you have a goal, set a plan and you can do it,” she said in a video shared on Twitter. “It has been a journey and it all started with a little girl working at McDonald’s and here I am.”
The Tokyo Olympics will be held from July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.