HARTSELLE, Ala. – As the temperatures and humidity soared last Friday, James Evans continued to detail cars as the sweat poured down his face. He was determined, just like his stepdaughter, to push himself to do what he had to do in order to earn the money needed to get his family to Orlando, Florida.
Next door, USA Healthcare hosted a cookout fundraiser at the Falkville Health and Rehab Center to raise money to help the family of local Olympian long jumper Quanesha Burks with expenses needed to travel to Orlando. With families unable to attend Olympic events this year, Universal Orlando Resort is hosting the family and friends of Team USA athletes.
The family did not know until the Olympic Trials in late June that Quanesha had qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team, and this timing left little chance for family and friends to organize fundraising events. Quanesha’s long jump event is scheduled to begin on July 30.
Evans was willing to take a short break to speak of how proud he is of Burks. He said, “I am her stepdad, but I am really proud of her because she has come a long way. She used to work at McDonald’s. She’s an ol’ girl from Hartselle that used to work at McDonald’s. She took another step and graduated from The University of Alabama and got her teaching degree. She just kept pushing herself, working out every day, and that’s a big step when you fulfill your goal. I am very proud of her.”
“We are trying to just get there so we can see. They are going to have it down there and I guess it’s like a big picture thing you can watch it on from Tokyo. That’s what we are doing this for – so we can watch it,” Evans explained. Universal Orlando is offering four-day accommodations for two family members or friends of each US athlete, but Evans hopes to take the entire family, including Burks’ mom, grandmother and three younger siblings.
The family is looking to rent a vehicle for the trip rather than fly. When asked if the family would consider flying, Evans responded, “Oh no! I can’t fly.”
Evans is proud of all his girls. He took the opportunity to not only point out the accomplishments of Quanesha, but he quickly switched gears to brag about the accomplishments of her younger siblings who were helping with the fundraiser.
Ja-Mira Davis, a sixth grader at Hartselle Middle School, said of her big sister, “I am really proud of her. She’s come a long way. I get to see her from the Olympics, and I am really proud.” When asked about the moment Quanesha appears on the big screen as they watch from Orlando, sister Jayla Dobbins, also in sixth grade at Hartselle, simply squealed as she tried to convey her delight, adding, “It’s going to be amazing!”
Davis and Dobbins both say that they are inspired by their big sister but admit the comparisons can be difficult. Both are involved in school sports, basketball and track. Currently, they are fully focused on their big sister and, though disappointed they can’t see her compete in person, the opportunity to watch with the other Olympic families is very special for them.
Quanesha’s sister Olivia Dobbins, a seventh grader at Hartselle, also participates in track and field at her school. “I don’t do long jump, no. I do 100m, 200m, 400m and relays. I’m not as fast as my sister – yet!” she smiled. She too is incredibly proud and excited to see Quanesha compete.
Leasha Dobbins, Burks’ mother, who currently works at Falkville Health and Rehab, was amazed that so many people were willing to come out and help her family, including Falkville Mayor Ken Winkles. Winkles came by to offer his support and personally donate to the family. As he and Dobbins posed for a picture in front of the Olympic rings display, the joy emanating from each of them was contagious.
Dobbins has dreamed of this moment for Quanesha, saying, “It will be amazing. I know Quanesha is going further in life and me, being a mom, I am behind her every step of the way. With the rest of her sisters, I am behind them every step too. I love them. I am a proud mom and I love my baby. I am excited for her. Now, I have never been to Orlando, Florida, it’s my fit time, and it’s going to be amazing.”
Dobbins added that Evans has all their Team USA gear, flags and things packed that the family will need once they arrive in Orlando to cheer on Quanesha and the entire team. USA Healthcare had T-shirts made with Quanesha’s photo printed on them and the phrase, “One Spirit, One Team, One Win.” The family was brought to tears by the gifts.
“I greatly appreciate everybody who has supported my daughter. I really appreciate that, especially her coaches. It all started at field day at Crestline Elementary School. She came in first place in every event,” Dobbins said.
Quanesha’s grandmother, Cathy Williams, who played an enormous role in raising her and is retired from USA Healthcare, was speechless upon arrival to the fundraising efforts. Williams said through her incredible smile, “Oh my God! I am so…” as the tears kept her from being able to speak. As she finally caught her breath, she said, “I am so happy! I am so happy. God is good!”
Williams said of Quanesha’s degree in education and her future as a teacher, “She is going to have some amazing stories to tell her students. What an inspiration she will be! I am so proud of Quanesha that I don’t know what to do. I give God all the praise and thank Him for everything. God wakes her up in the morning time and she always prays with Him before she goes out to do the long jump. She says, ‘Grandma, you know what we’ve got to do.’ I say, ‘Yes, baby.’”
Will this be the end for Burks after the Tokyo Olympics? Evans doesn’t think so, saying, “She is probably going to be a prospect for 2024. It takes a lot of work to do stuff like that and she’s got to come on with it. If she wants it bad enough, she’s got to go get it. If she wants that gold, she’s got to go get it!”
If you would like to donate to help Quanesha’s family travel to Orlando, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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