Quanesha Burks is set to be in the Tokyo Olympics, something she’s worked hard for since high school. But the hurdles she faced along the way threatened to take away everything.
It all began in the small town of Hartselle, Alabama, where Quanesha and her siblings were raised by their grandparents. Because of their family’s financial struggles, Quanesha ended up taking a job at McDonald’s to help support them.
“I thought it was the best job ever,” Quanesha said. “I was making $100 every two weeks. It’s terrible, but I came to work every day happy and I knew it was all part of my goal to go to college.”
It wasn’t long before a different way to pay for college caught her eye. Many of her peers at Hartselle High School were pursuing sports in hopes of earning scholarships, so she decided to give it a shot.
She couldn’t have made a better choice! She quickly discovered her own jaw-dropping athletic ability.
She tried basketball, but she realized that track was her true calling when she came in third place at the 2012 USATF National Junior Olympics. Her success there drove her to create a game plan to make her dreams a reality.
“I remember looking up the requirements to earn a full scholarship and I wrote those goals down,” Quanesha said.
At that point, she had an extremely full plate on her hands. A typical day would start at 4:30 a.m. so she could drive her grandmother to work. Next, it was time to get herself and her sisters ready for school. After classes ended, she had practice until 4 p.m. and then work until 10 p.m., the latest high schoolers are allowed to be on the clock. On the weekends, she took on early-morning shifts.
Despite the difficulty of maintaining this schedule, Quanesha managed to stay happy and positive. She did this by reminding herself of what she was working toward: a scholarship and ultimately the Olympics!
Her relentless efforts paid off when recruiters started reaching out to her, but Quanesha was so dedicated to her job that she almost missed out on some opportunities. Coaches from various universities were often unable to contact her, including University of Alabama’s coach, Miguel Pate.
“Coach Pate actually had to sit me down with my high school coach, Kenny Lopez, and guidance counselor so I could understand how my life was going to change and I wouldn’t need to work at McDonald’s,” Quanesha said.
She finally quit right after high school. At that point, she had earned 11 state titles, and during her time at the University of Alabama, she would claim even more. You can find all of her accomplishments in her bio here — the list is 27 bullet points long!
Quanesha was well on her way to achieving her dreams, but things took a turn when she placed fourth at the World Athletics Indoor Championships. A year later, she lost her grandfather. It happened only a week before the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Still recovering from her loss, she was unable to place.
Things began to look up again in February 2020, but soon after, the pandemic shut down most sporting events, leaving her with nothing to do but wait. Determined not to lose time, she continued to train until a bone injury forced her to stop.
“It felt like all the odds were against me,” she said. “At one point, my coach told me, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to physically be able to go to the trials.’ The doctors didn’t know if I would be back in time. I was seeing some specialists and they didn’t have much hope in me at all.”
That’s when Quanesha turned inward. During this time of uncertainty, she began making positive TikTok videos to manifest that she would make it to the Olympics.
By the skin of her teeth, she was able to try out. Despite not being at her peak after her injury, she beat her personal record. This was good enough to land her in third place — and grant her a spot on the Olympic team!
“Everything I’ve become is because of my mindset and my determination,” she said. “It’s been a journey and it all started with a little girl working at McDonald’s.”
Congratulations, Quanesha! You’re such an inspiration to us all, and we can’t wait to see you in the Tokyo Olympics!
Don’t forget to share her incredible journey to encourage your loved ones to pursue their dreams.
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