Fifth Time's The Charm

By Betsy Swanback

Former Stanford Cardinal track & field star Jackie Edwards was been a standout athlete from the beginning. A five-time Olympian representing the Bahamas in both the triple jump and long jump, she experienced success from an early age.

Edwards was born in Falmouth, Trelawney Parish, Jamaica on April 14, 1971. She moved to the Bahamas at a young age, and began competing in track around age 11.  

"A coach saw that I looked talented and approached me afterwards and asked me if I would be interested in being on the team," she explains. "I hated it at first, but my mother made me go for a year. It took about ten months for me to actually grow into liking it."

She continued to progress in both the triple jump and long jump throughout high school, and was recruited to attend Stanford. She was the number one long jump college recruit in 1987.

Edwards initially struggled in college.

"I gained beyond the freshman 15. I gained like 25 pounds and ended up having to have two knee surgeries," she says. "Athletically my first two years weren't very good. I think I was third my freshman year, and fifth my sophomore year. And I didn't jump any further than I had in high school. My coach Brooke Johnson told me if I came back at that weight she wouldn't let me compete for my junior year."

She buckled down and saw a nutritionist that summer and lost the unnecessary weight. And her career took off. She had outstanding junior and senior seasons.

Edwards went from not qualifying for NCAA Championships to getting second in the NCAA Championships her junior year. She went to the World Championships in Japan that year as well. During her senior year she won the NCAA championships indoor and outdoors in long jump and got second in triple jump outdoors and third indoors.

She still holds the Stanford long jump record almost twenty years after her graduation.

She first qualified for Olympics in 1992. "Mentally I was pretty tired after a long college season, but as a child when you have this dream of making it to the Olympics, to have that actually happen is hard to describe. I just remember going and being in the village and being with the Dream Team. My own performance, I didn't actually jump that well. I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience," she said.

This would be just her first of five Olympic appearances. "It wasn't a plan to do five," she says. "You go a second time with more intention and more purpose. By 1996, I was a professional track athlete. It is something I really worked hard for."

She is proud of her origins, and says, "Just because I'm from the Bahamas doesn't mean I have an easier way to get to the Olympics. You always have to jump the same distance regardless of where you are from. So to be able to do that five times in a row, to be able to be healthy, is amazing."

She is very connected to her roots in the Bahamas and enjoys representing her birth country. "I really do feel pride competing for the Bahamas," she said. "Competing for the U.S. never occurred to me. The reason I even got to start out on the path that I did is because of my roots and my upbringing and my family. I would never switch my citizenship for any reason."

Edwards has been the flag bearer for her country in the Parade of Nations twice. She cites her Stanford education as a reason why some athletes from her country look to her to speak for them as a whole.  

She says she enjoys being a celebrity back in the Bahamas. "I'm in the U.S. a lot and so I forget that I'm well known back there," she says.  "I spent so many years in the public eye, my name is for sure known by almost everyone."

Edwards cites three main reasons she was able to compete in five Olympics. The first: "Just pure genetics. I am lucky to have maintained pretty good health for a long time." The second is that she "took care of herself, ate properly, slept enough, and chose not to live a hard-partying type of lifestyle."

She credits her masters degree in sports psychology as the final reason she was able to maintain her longevity.

"A huge part of sports is the mental aspect," she says. "You need to keep that aggressiveness and passion to keep the focus that you need to compete. To be able to key in and hone in on what makes you successful is very important."

She considered making a run at the Olympic games in London in 2012, but tore her Achilles tendon in 2009 and has not fully recovered. She has also been struggling with a calf injury, so she will not return for a sixth Olympic games.

She is now working on transitioning into a new profession. She hopes to be an interior designer and currently co-owns a company with a fellow Stanford athlete.

"At 40, it's like I'm starting my life over," she says. "Other Stanford people are very successful lawyers or doctors, et cetera. But I wouldn't trade the position I'm in now for anything."

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