Erin Jackson’s historic gold medal sparks Olympic pride in her hometown — The Undefeated

The rotunda at Forest High School in Ocala, Fla., is lined with colorful banners honoring her former student Erin Jackson, who boldly documented her plans to pursue Olympic glory in her senior yearbook 11 years ago.

Her goal turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy at the 2022 Beijing Olympics when she won gold in speed skating in the 500 meters on February 13. Along with claiming the permanent title of Olympic champion, Jackson will forever be known as the first black woman to win. an individual gold medal in his sport. In just 37.04 seconds, she made history.

Since then, Jackson has received shoutouts from everyone from former first lady Michelle Obama to actress Gabrielle Union to TV icon Oprah Winfrey. But the most fervent love and pride comes from the Sunshine State, especially those with ties to Jackson’s hometown of Ocala.

A common theme among those who know her, and even those who don’t, is that there couldn’t be a more perfect role model for the next generation than Jackson.

“Erin is one of those people I’ve never met who didn’t like her, so everyone is super happy for her,” said Renee Hildebrand, Jackson’s inline speed skating coach. “And really, she is one of those people that no one is jealous of. Everyone just knows that she deserves it and admires it.

Hildebrand has known Jackson for about 20 years. The world-renowned trainer saw something special in the then 10-year-old Jackson, who toured Skate Mania, a roller rink in Ocala. Just four years ago, Jackson moved to Salt Lake City to train full-time in ice speed skating. Watching her compete in the 500 meters in Beijing, Hildebrand cried with joy when she realized her former protege would end up with a medal. She cried even harder when Jackson won gold.

Since her victory, Hildebrand has been inundated with congratulatory text messages and phone calls from inline skaters and coaches around the world. Not only did Jackson increase exposure to ice speed skating, but she also brought attention to in-line skating, which is not an Olympic sport. In the eyes of the skating world and her hometown, there is no better representative than Jackson.

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn said the town was beaming with pride. It is planned to honor their three Olympians, speed skaters Jackson, Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia, with a throwback party this spring. The Marion County Black History Museum will also erect a monument to commemorate Jackson’s historic achievement, Guinn said.

To many, it seems so unlikely that a Winter Olympics champion would hail from a city devoid of ice. The closest rinks to the city of under 64,000 are in Daytona and Orlando. But if Ocala were a country, it would have finished tied for 18th in medal count at the 2022 Games with three (Jackson’s 500-meter gold, Bowe’s 1,000-meter bronze and team pursuit bronze). of Mantia).

“To me, selfishly, I mean, what other mayor in the country has three medal-winning Olympic athletes, right,” Guinn said. “I mean, it’s a big deal.”

The Beijing Games made people across the country look at Ocala a little differently. Marcia Flaig, who taught second-grade Jackson advanced placement language and composition at Forest High School, hopes and believes the Beijing 2022 Olympics will also change the impressions city residents have of their hometown.

“Kids like to call Ocala ‘Slowcala’,” Flaig said. “Now I wish they would change it to say ‘Goldcala’.”

In high school, Jackson juggled an advanced course load and a career as a professional inline skater, which saw her compete all over the world. She also ran track and field for the Wildcats and was a project manager for the robotics team. Wherever she decided to go, she would achieve resounding success, her teachers remembered.

“It’s wonderful but it’s in no way shocking to see her there,” Jackson’s advanced economics and investment professor John Crawford said of his former student’s Olympic gold. “She’s a very driven young woman who knows what to do and knows how to achieve great things.”

After graduating from high school, Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Florida in 2015. She also has an associate’s degree in computer science from Salt Lake Community College and works on another associate’s degree in kinesiology, while training to become the best skater in the world.

“Having a dream and not giving up on that dream and working hard to achieve it – those are the things we talked about [with students]said Raymond James, Jackson’s advanced placement calculus teacher and athletic trainer. “And I know the kids – it’s a jaw-dropping moment for them.”

Alexis Hogan, 18, is a senior at Forest High and the school’s first state champion weightlifter. As a barrier breaker herself, Hogan said Jackson’s success “really hits the mark.”

For second-placed point guard and Florida Athletic Coaches Association Player of the Year Zay McCoy, 16, Jackson’s victory motivates him to work harder and bring more glory to their alma mater. Riley Sampson, 17 and a two-time state swimming champion, said it was awesome to walk the same lanes as Jackson.

“It makes things like going to the Olympics and even winning a gold medal more accessible for a normal person coming from a small town,” the Forest High senior said. “So it’s really very encouraging for athletes like the three of us who are at the top of our sport. It gives us a little more dynamism.

Makenna Owens, 15, of Jacksonville, is a student at the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, an organization that provides youth development programs for low-income children. She and three other students made a poster to wish Jackson good luck in Beijing as part of the foundation’s partnership with Comcast, which is also in partnership with Team USA. The students were featured with their poster on Jackson’s Twitter page after his win.

Although Owens had never heard of Jackson before these Games, she was thrilled to see the athlete she supported claim victory.

“I’m really glad she won because it really shines a light on the African-American community,” Owens said. “She is the first of a minority to win this medal, and that makes me really happy.”

Jackson shared his advice for young athletes, especially those of color, on MSNBC Thursday: “Don’t be afraid to try something that looks really hard. Go ahead, take that first step, then keep taking more steps.

Even before becoming a trailblazer, Jackson seemed obligated to mentor young skaters.

June Munro has two sons who skated with Jackson in Ocala: Alexander Munro, 16, and Ian Munro, 20. They moved to Florida from Georgia to skate under Hildebrand in 2014, but have since moved back.

During Alexander’s first competition that year, nerves started to get the better of him. Munro said she will always remember Jackson leading her 7-year-old down the track and guiding him around the field in an effort to ease his anxiety.

Erin Jackson (right) guides Alexander Munro (left) down the track at the 2014 USA Roller Sports Outdoor National Championships and World Team Trials in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Alexander’s mother, June Munro, said she will never forget the kindness and leadership Jackson showed in that time.

Mariebeth Lee

“She always carries herself with such poise and grace and humility, and she’s a wonderful role model for the kids,” Munro said. “And it’s not just for little girls, but also for boys, because I know from my perspective as the mother of my skating kids, she was always a big inspiration to them.”

Even now, with Alexander playing football in high school and Ian at Florida International University, Munro said the boys consistently apply the lessons Jackson taught them: walk humbly, hard work pays off and “practice pays off.” perfect”.

Payton Titus is a journalism student at the University of Florida. She’s probably serenading or photographing her cat right now.

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