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Brittney Reese: The Enormous Heart of a Long Jump Champion and Adoptive Mother


The most driven and successful people in any endeavor all have an unusually competitive heart that separates them from the rest, and for a number of those individuals their gargantuan heart is big enough to include an overflow supply of caring and compassion. Brittney Reese is one of those people.

A six-time USATF Outdoor women’s long jump champion, a three-time World Outdoor champion and the 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist, Reese was the No. 1 ranked women’s long jumper in the world from 2009 to 2013.

Being a world-class athlete is an incredibly draining occupation with a long list of pressures and demands that can be all-encompassing, but while the ultra-competitive side of Reese’s heart has been on display for the world to see during her many international triumphs, it’s in her personal life where the enormity of that same affectionate and loving heart has led to her adopting an eight-year-old boy named Alex Wildee.

“I’ve known his momma since we were kids and he’s actually my godson, so I just felt like I wanted to raise him. I adopted him and he stayed with my mom for like two years, and then I took over this year to just raise him,” Reese said. “It always felt like he was mine anyway since I had helped to raise him since he was born; he is attached to me. He’s active and he listens to me more than anyone else, and it’s just one of those situations where I just wanted him to be in my eyesight at all times. He’s a good boy.

“I home school him. I home school in the morning, go to practice and I’m also a part-time coach (Mesa Community College), so I’m on the go from 7 in the morning until 6 in the evening every day.”

Reese joyfully welcomed the added responsibility of caring for her beloved son full-time earlier this season, a season she hopes will be capped off by becoming the first woman to successfully defend the women’s Olympic Games long jump title. Defending an Olympic gold medal would be an amazing feat for someone who found her true athletic calling midway through her high school career.

“I didn’t start long jumping until the 11th grade when the athletic director brought the basketball team out and he was trying to find a long jumper. At the time I was doing the 400 and the high jump, and I asked him if I could try it and he wouldn’t let me because he wanted me in the 400,” Reese said. “I just begged him and begged him, and he finally let me try it. The first time I jumped, I got out to 16 or 17 feet and he told me to go and do it again. So I did it again and he said ‘you’re going to long jump and I’m not going to put you in the 400 again.’ I did not like the 400, so from there on I officially was doing the long jump.

“I liked to jump and I was playing a lot of basketball at the time, which requires a lot of jumping. I was already doing the high jump, so I thought why not just add the long jump to it. I felt like why not at least try everything and do everything to get out of the 400.”

Reese, who attended high school in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, where she was named the state’s 2004 Gatorade Player of the Year for track and field, later went to college at the University of Mississippi. Reese won the 2007 and 2008 NCAA Outdoor titles and came to the realization that as a long jumper, she was ready for a grander stage.

“The reason I turned pro early out of college is my coach told me I needed to be challenged a lot more,” Reese said. “He felt like I wasn’t getting challenged in college, so I turned professional. When I was in Beijing in 2008 (Olympic Games) and placed fifth, [I was] devastated when I realized I could compete with these women. I dedicated myself to try and work harder than I’d been working in order to become one of the greatest athletes. It was that experience in Beijing when I came to understand that I could really be good in this event if I tried and worked hard.”

Reese won virtually everything there was to win for a five-year span before her skyrocketing career was suddenly in serious jeopardy when she suffered a torn labrum in her hip during a competition in 2013.  

“That was the toughest two years of my life,” Reese said. “It messed me up not only physically but mentally. I was in a stage where I was thinking about just retiring because maybe I just couldn’t get myself back right. So my coach recommended a life coach and psychologist who does it all, and this year (2016) was my last resort of whether I should continue in track and field.

“I was not producing like I used to produce. I wasn’t jumping like 6.80 (meters) or 6.90m, when I was used to jumping seven meters at least once or twice a year. I was devastated. I had been competing internationally since 2007, and when I didn’t make my first final it really hurt me and put me in a bad position. In 2015, I could not stay healthy; I tried everything. I was getting treatment, doing recovery and I just couldn’t stay healthy. My body wasn’t ready. I was glad I figured it out and got everything healthy and prepared for what I’ve got going on now.”

Reese kicked off the 2016 season by winning her third-career USATF Indoor title, before taking on the world’s best one week later at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon, where she reestablished herself as the best women’s long jumper in the world by winning on her final attempt with a world-leading jump of 7.22m/23-8.25.

“It was a good feeling,” Reese said. “For me to finally see that I still had that drive…that helped me to be a better athlete and appreciate the sport more, and appreciate the journey that I’m going through. I’m really excited about this coming year.”

Reese, who set the American indoor record in 2012 (7.23m/23-8.75) in winning her second of three World Indoor Championships, credits much of her recent success to her coach, Jeremy Fischer, the Lead Coach at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center, where Reese trains each day.

“He’s a real knowledgeable coach. He’s young and he understands because he was a former athlete himself, so he knows the ins and outs,” Reese said. “He brings a lot to the table and I really appreciate all that he’s done for me in helping me get to where I am. He’s the one who recommended the psychologist to me because he knew what I had in me. I just had to not only hear from him, but hear from other people. I have a (minor) in psychology, so I felt I should do everything on my own and he’s the one that recommended me to actually talk to somebody and get me on track. He’s a great motivator for me in the sport and I really love and appreciate everything he’s done. He’s like a big brother to me; we do everything together.”

While Reese’s days are filled with the responsibility of motherhood and coaching aspiring athletes looking to someday walk in her footsteps, she still has the time and energy to prepare for the upcoming track season, and is primed for the grind of an Olympic Games year.

“I’m exactly where I need to be,” Reese said. “Portland showed me that I’m in shape and in jumping form. There are just some things that I still have to work on.  I have to keep my speed, and keep technical things intact. I’m where I need to be and I feel if I just maintain everything, I should be good and ready to go by the time the Trials come.”

Reese’s main goal this season is to defend her women’s long jump title at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It would mean a lot because I would be the first woman to do that, and that would be a true blessing,” Reese said. “I feel like it’s reachable and it’s something I can do. I just have to stay focused and stay mentally and physically prepared, and be ready to battle because I know it’s not going to be easy. It’s the time when everybody comes out and puts out their best performance, and I’ll have to battle and put out my best performance.”

At 29, Reese has already captured every major championship there is to win, but she still has a burning desire to make an additional imprint on the sport she loves.

“I really want to at least break the American (outdoor) record and then the world record, and that’s about all I have left to do in the sport,” Reese said. “That’s the goal from now on is to try to get close to these records, and I’ll break them.”

With a heart as big as Reese’s, don’t bet against her.

-- Contributed by Tom Surber

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