‘From gold arches to gold medals’: Hartselle’s Quanesha Burks’ amazing journey to the Olympics

Hartselle’s Quanesha Burks will be competing in the Long Jump for Team USA at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. (UA Athletics)

HARTSELLE, Ala. — The Olympics is an amazing event full of some of the world’s most elite athletes who will do whatever it takes to bring home a gold medal. This year, one of those athletes is Hartselle’s Quanesha Burks, who will be competing in the long jump for Team USA and her journey to get to this point, has been nothing short of amazing and inspirational. 

The USA Healthcare in Falkville is helping raise money so Burks’ family can travel to Orlando to watch the Olympics along with the other families of Team USA. Burks will compete July 31st in Tokyo.

Burks was born in Ozark, Alabama and she and her siblings were raised by her grandparents in Hartselle. It was a real struggle early on as she watched her family live paycheck to paycheck. She got a job at McDonald’s when she was 17 years old. Her day would start at 4:30 a.m. when she took her grandmother to work at the local nursing home, which was a half-hour away from her their house. Upon returning, she helped get her sisters ready for school before dropping them off and then attending her own classes. When school ended, she would go to practice, which would wrap up before she needed to be at McDonald’s at 4 p.m. and she worked until 10 p.m., the latest high school students were permitted. On the weekends, she worked the early-morning shifts. She was making $200 every two weeks and it was all part of her goal to go to college. All of her money would go toward helping her grandmother pay off her car insurance.

But it wasn’t track that first caught her interest. While she was at Hartselle, Burks quickly took notice of her classmates using sports as a way to get college scholarships. A family friend bought her shoes to play basketball and she had dreams of playing for Pat Summit at Tennessee. When track season rolled around, another friend encouraged her to try out and bought her spikes to compete in the sprints and jumps. After placing third at the 2012 USATF National Junior Olympics, she decided to stick with track for her college aspirations.

Alabama coach Miguel Pate sat down with Burks, Hartselle Track & Field Coach Kenny Lopez and her guidance counselor and let her know how much her life was going to change when she was offered an athletic scholarship. Burks finished her high school career with 11 state titles, including the 100-meters, long jump and triple jump sweep as a senior. At Alabama, she became the first in her family to attend college and went on to have a successful career by setting school records, earning All-America honors and winning the 2015 NCAA outdoor and 2016 NCAA indoor long jump titles. She’s also the only female national championship long jump winner to come from the University of Alabama.

But the next few years as a professional were not easy for Burks. In 2018, she finished fourth at the World Athletic Indoors Championships and missed the podium by 0.04 meters. A year later, she lost her grandfather, who was “the only dad I had in my life”, a week before the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. After that, she boarded a plane to Des Moines and competed two days later but failed to record a successful jump and missed the 2019 World Championships. She rebounded by winning the U.S. indoor title in February of 2020 but the World Athletics Indoor Championship in Nanjing, China, were canceled due to the pandemic. Burks continued to train until she suffered a bone bruise in her femur earlier this year, sidelining her for 11 weeks without any running or jumping.

While she watched her competition notch the Olympic standard and earn points in the World Athletics’ ranking system, Burks took to TikTok to verbally manifest that she was going to make the Olympic team. Despite the odds being against her, and even with her coach and the doctors saying that she probably wouldn’t be ready in time for trials, Burks was determined to accomplish the goals she had set. She knew that she could do it. Three weeks before at a meet in Chula Vista, California, Burks jumped with a season-best 6.85 meters despite the severe bone bruise in her takeoff leg.

Burks entered the trials with a personal best of 6.93 meters and entered the competition with the Olympic standard, but only secured it in her final competition before the trials. Going into her jump, she was ranked 11th in 2021. Burks qualified for the final on her first jump and entered the final with the second-best jump in the field. Her first four rounds were solid but in the fifth round she finished with a personal best of 6.96 meters, propelling her from sixth to third. Burks ended up holding that spot and made her first Olympic team. Burks feels like to this day, she still gets overlooked, but because of her determination, her mindset and her confidence, her dreams are coming true. How did she celebrate making her first Olympic team? With an order of medium fries with no salt and a side of sweet and sour sauce at McDonald’s. 

Burks’ family is so incredibly proud of her, and they couldn’t help but get emotional when talking about her incredible journey to get to the Olympics.

“I’m really proud of her,” her stepfather, James Evans, said. “She’s come a long way; she used to work at McDonald’s. She graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in teaching. She kept pushing herself, working out every day. That’s a big step when you fulfill your goals and you want to do something in life. That’s what she did; she kept pushing herself and I’m very proud of her. To see a person like that from Alabama to participate in something like the Olympics, that’s a very big step.”

“I’m really proud of her. She’s come a long way,” her sister, Ja’Mira Davis, said. “I’m actually proud that I get to go and get to see her from the Olympics doing what she’s doing right now. I’m actually really proud of her.”

Another one of her sisters, Jayla Dobbins, had this to say when asked what it will be like when she hears her sister’s name and she see it across the screen, “I’m going to be so proud of her. I’m going to be so amazed that she has gone so far over the last year. It’s going to be amazing.”

“I knew Quanesha was going to go very far in life,” her mom, Leasha Dobbins, said. “And me being a mom, I’m behind her with every step of the way, along with the rest of my family. I love my baby. I’m excited for her and it’s going to be amazing.” 

“I’m so proud of Quanesha,” her grandmother, Kathy Davis, said. “I’m just so excited for her.” Her reaction to when she sees her on the screen: “There’s my baby. I’m so happy. God is good.”

It’s been an incredible journey so far for Quanesha Burks, and her family, along with millions of other fans, are rooting for her to bring home some gold medals.

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