Achieving Personal Best: Jackie Edwards
“If I took personal responsibility for a loss, I felt as if I had it in within my power to do better the next time as opposed to blaming something extrinsic.”
I love watching the Olympics. I am always inspired, but hardly ever deluded into believing that I too could have been an Olympian had I just found the right sport or worked a little harder. (There was that one exception.) One of the things I appreciate about watching the Olympics is the impossibility of mimicking what they do.
5-time Olympian long-jumper Jackie Edwards of the Bahamas is a visual reminder that Olympic athletes are built differently. Competing at 5' 8 1/2" and 140lbs, this powerhouse could bench 205 lbs and squat 400 lbs. Her propensity of fast twitch fibers, height to weight ratio, and strength fulfilled the necessary components for being a world-class jumper: speed, power and explosiveness. Jackie admits to having an “extra-ordinary amount of natural physical talent, but there are many people who are born that way.” At the very elite level, beyond the hard work, she believes the difference between winning and losing comes down to mental toughness and ones ability to command and deliver results on cue. While we will never be able to jump 22’ 7.5" like she has, there is a lot to be learned from how she has approached her sport, things that the everyday athlete can mimic.
At 11, Jackie competed in myriad sports, excelling in all of them. Included on her resume are netball player, equestrian, and 2-time National Jr. Bowling champion. One would never imagine that her shyness almost got in the way of competing and training. “I didn't want to continue because I had to be around adults at practice and I was very afraid of that. I cried for almost a year before I finally got comfortable in the training environment and the successes that I was having in competition helped to allay my apprehension.”
By the time Jackie graduated high school, she had never lost a race and was the #1 recruited long jumper to Stanford University, where she still holds the long jump record and is now in their Hall of Fame. During the first two years as a collegian, Jackie gained 20lbs and was too heavy to soar; she also had to have knee surgeries. She did not fulfill her billing as a top athlete. The summer of her junior year, she went home to Nassau, saw a nutritionist, got back on track, so to speak, and had her breakthrough moment, jumping 21’10” and qualifying for the World Championships. She wonders if her world-class potential might have been derailed had she not refocused her efforts that year.
Jackie was kind enough to give me insight into her motivations, failures, and successes.
“The single most important factor to me about competing, particularly when it came to my professional career in long jump, was the desire I had to improve, to compete against myself. I was always compelled to do better, be better, train harder so that I could jump farther. Specifically, I made it a point to focus on the elements of long jumping as opposed to just trying to jump far.
“I am innately a hard worker, but that inner desire to improve and be better was constant and persistent. On average, as a professional, I trained 4-5 hours a day, 6 days a week, 10 1/2 months a year. I didn't need outside motivation and always wanted to know at the end of the day that I had done my very drug-free best, that I had left it all on the track and that no stone was left unturned.
“The thing I think that made me so good for such a long time was my consistency in training. I VERY RARELY ever missed a workout. “
“I'd venture to say that every athlete knows failure. If you compete long enough, you will experience failure on many occasions. The thing that will impact your career one way or the other is how you respond to these failures. I always tried to make sure I took a step back after getting over the initial disappointment of the loss, to figure out what I did wrong and what I did right so that the next time around I would hopefully not make the same mistakes again. You have to have thick skin and a short memory and learn how to move on from losses or you it could be the source of your own demise. Also, if I took personal responsibility for a loss, I felt as if I had it in within my power to do better the next time as opposed to blaming something extrinsic.”
Recovering from a knee injury where she didn’t have the proper time to recover, Jackie needed to hit her mark. She talks about her mental toughness and nailing her jump:
“Time was running out and the qualification deadline was getting close in August of that year and I had one last meet. I needed to jump 21' 10". On the first 5 of my jumps, I jumped between 21' 2" and 21' 8", but just couldn't quite hit the mark. It came down to my very last jump and I summoned everything I had ever learned and utilized as much of my focus and concentration as I could, and as fate would have it, I jumped exactly 21' 10" on that last jump! It truly was one of the most amazing and gratifying experiences of my career. To be able to ask my body to produce a performance where there was going to be no second chance, and to actually deliver that performance was a high that I'm sure no drug user has ever experienced. Suffice to say, I went on to my 3rd Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia in September and finished 6th out of about 50 competitors. I have to say that my Masters Degree in Sport Psychology was the most important component of that series of events. Through all the months I couldn't train properly, etc. I honed my visualization skills, my concentration skills and my positive self-talk and was able to produce some of my best physical results, when my body was least fit because of mental toughness.”
Lastly, Jackie shares her advice to high schoolers looking to achieve their personal best.
“I would say that it is important to not force things. I believe one's natural ability will reveal itself more or less in one particular sport over time. You also have to have fun. If a parent is forcing a child to do something that they have absolutely no affinity or interest in, the chances of there being longevity or dedication to that sport are greatly diminished. As far as trying to achieve one's personal best, I think the single most important thing is being consistent over time - in training, rest, diet, physiotherapy, etc. You can't be great if you are only willing to do what it takes some of the time. It takes special desire and discipline and dedication to achieve at a high level you have to be willing to push yourself beyond what you even think you're capable of, over and over again. Finally, I think it's important to set goals. Obviously, you have to have the big end goal, but in order to keep motivated and consistent, you have to set much smaller component goals that will lead to success at the bigger goal. For me as a jumper, that included working on my power/strength in the weight room, working on my speed at 30m, 60m, 120m, etc, working on my vertical jump, my standing long jump, my long jump technique jumping from 7 steps, 9 steps, 11 steps, 13 steps and my full approach. I had to improve in every area in order to be successful at long jumping and knowing that I could improve in many areas kept me motivated for the long haul.”