SEEMING TO THRIVE when faced with adversity, Shawnti Jackson came back from a shin injury last year and scored a quadruple victory at North Carolina’s State Meet and won the USATF Junior title on minimal training. Then in August at the World U20 she contributed to the winning 4×4 while fighting a fever. Most recently, she won the 300 at the Sander Invitational just days after a visit to the hospital for GI issues.
“My 2022 season had a lot of ups and downs,” she says. “I had to take 8–10 weeks off for my shins and right when I came back everybody was at the peak of the season. I still had to get my conditioning in, so it was hard for me.”
The injury, a tibial stress reaction, came in early March, but didn’t stop her from showing up at the New Balance Indoor wearing an orthopedic boot. She shed that long enough to take 2nd in the 200, then spent the next two months recovering.
She healed just in time to qualify for State, where she won the 100, 200 and 400 and anchored the winning 4×4. “When I started training again I didn’t think I would bounce back because my times in practice weren’t where they usually were,” she says. “I was struggling to finish workouts. I was a little nervous, but I surprised myself.”
A month later she won the USATF Junior 100. She false started in the 200, so wasn’t be able to contest her favorite event at the World U-20. But she was tapped for double relay duty and did not disappoint.
Over the course of 5 days in Colombia she picked up a trio of medals. She won bronze in the 100, silver in the 4×1 and helped the U.S. take gold in the 4×4. “The morning of the 4×4 I could barely get out of bed,” she recalls. “I had a really high fever. I couldn’t talk, my throat was hurting. It was terrible.” Still, she ran a notable 51.36 on the third leg. “I was hurting so bad [afterwards]. I felt the fever before I felt the lactic.”
During the offseason Jackson was able to heal — and transferred to South Granville HS, in her hometown of Creedmoor, North Carolina. She comes into her senior year very prominent on the top eligibles list, being No. 1 in both the 100 (11.15/11.07w) and 400 (52.32) and No. 3 in the 200 (23.06).
She kicked off her ’23 campaign with a national record in the 300, clocking 36.63 at the VA Showcase to take down the 36.82 set by Sydney McLaughlin in ’17. “I wasn’t expecting to get it, because it was my season opener,” says the 17-year-old Jackson, who had come close a year ago with a 36.95. “I was just trying to get the feel of the 300 again and I did not expect to get the record that quick.”
It’s hard not to be impressed by taking down a record set by a future Olympic champion and WR holder. “Just seeing where she is now in her career and that I broke her record just shows the potential that I have in the future,” Jackson says.
Two weeks later Jackson nearly lowered her own record, running 36.73 at the Sander Invitational. In addition to GI issues (which doctors believe was caused by some sort of bug), she was dealing with sore hamstrings in the week leading up to the meet. “The race felt pretty good,” she says. “I put all that other stuff to the side and I just tried to go for a PR.”
Looking ahead, she’ll continue to mix it up with the pros (including in the Millrose 60, a race she finished 3rd in a year ago) while also aiming for more prep accolades.
She relies on the support and guidance of her dad Bershawn, the ’08 Olympic 400H bronze medalist and a 7-time World Champs team member who won gold in ’05.
“When I first started running track it was a little hard. He was in coach mode all the time,” she says. “We got into a lot of arguments. But last year it was more — a lot of emotions came out of him, because it was an emotional year. And I think that made our bond even stronger. Our bond was already strong, but that made us even closer.”
That has to help when it’s your dad who is putting you through rigorous workouts. “You woulda thought I ran the 800,” she says, with a laugh, of the fitness-building regimen. “I did 1000s, 600s and 500 repeats. I go over-over distance at practice for conditioning. I really trust him, so I knew it was for the better. But in the moment I wasn’t happy.”
Taking off his coaching hat, Bershawn can’t help but be a gushing dad. “I’m just extremely proud and blessed as a father to watch my baby girl have success in the sport I once did,” he says. “I’m also extremely humble and blessed to watch my athlete work hard every day to create her own legacy.”
Come fall, Bershawn will hand the baton to the staff at Arkansas. Shawnti cites the powerhouse program’s extensive history of NCAA and SEC titles for her decision to sign with the Razorbacks (who won the Jackson sweepstakes over Florida, George, Texas and USC), but also the warm reception she got when visiting Fayetteville last fall, particularly from associate head coach Chris Johnson (who takes over the head coaching reins from Lance Harter next year).
“I’m really shy, so he brought me out of my shell and got me to open up,” Jackson says. “Also, the team didn’t treat me like a recruit, they treated me as if I was already on the team. They were just themselves and the staff was really welcoming. Everything about it felt like home.”