SHE’S ON A TEAR. Shawnti Jackson (Wakefield, Raleigh, North Carolina) has already notched two HS Records this indoor season, and is threatening others in the opening weeks of her junior campaign.
What’s most impressive, though, is her range. In December, she ran a flat-track 1:13.04 in the 500. A month later, she hit 7.25 for 60 at the big Virginia Showcase, passing the 50-meter camera en route in a National Record 6.26. That same meet she added a stunning 36.95 over 300m that made her the No. 2 prep ever, behind only one Sydney McLaughlin at 36.82. It also gave her the national junior-class record.
Jackson’s dad tells the story of when she was 3 years old and the family was at a college meet in Illinois that was being directed by Tonja Buford-Bailey. “They had a special exhibition race for the 7- or 8-year-olds. A 100-meter dash, or something like that. And Shawnti was crying, ‘I wanna run, Daddy.’ And she hopped in and Tonja said, ‘Let her run. Wait till the girls go by and then throw her on the track.’ I said, ‘Alright, cool.’
“And she took off and I knew it was something special. I’m like, ‘Man, this kid can run.’ She had on jeans and some boots. And she ran past the 7-year-olds. I knew she was special from day one.”
Every dad thinks their kid is a future star, but Shawnti’s father, in his defense, does know a bit about the sport. Bershawn “Batman” Jackson, a name well familiar to followers of the 400H, won WC gold in ’05, added an OG bronze 3 years later and overall was World Ranked 11 times.
And if bloodlines mean anything, one has to factor in Shawnti’s mother, Shannon, as well. As a New Jersey prep, she earned All-America relay honors several times.
Says Mom, “The funny thing about Shawnti is we always predicted she would go along the track & field path, but [for years] we were still debating between soccer and track. We couldn’t really decide which area she was going to go in.”
Dad started actually coaching Shawnti when she was 10 or so. “Bershawn does a great job of separating coach and dad,” says mom, “but sometimes he’s so passionate about it because he’s been there, he’s done that and he sees her future, that he gets carried away. She’s still a kid, still a teenager. She’s still developing in these different stages and she’ll eventually get there.”
Shawnti shares that confidence: “I feel like I can exceed my goals because he did it and he knows how to get me there. I’ll get there one day.”
Where, exactly, is “there”? Shawnti doesn’t hesitate to say she wants to have a long professional career like her father’s, and then some: “I think I’ll be there longer than him,” she says in a little bit of family one-upmanship.
For his part, dad is taking a conservative route in preparing Shawnti for college track. “I don’t want to give her everything so early,” he explains. “I want her to have room to grow. This year we’re focusing on technique, and her technique is a lot better than ever. Next year, we’re going to lift weights for the first time. If we give her everything now, then what do we have to look forward to later on?”
After missing the ’20 outdoor season, her 9th-grade year, Shawnti ran ’21 bests of 11.28, 23.06 and a nation-leading 52.54 as a sophomore in a campaign that was jump-started by a wind-aided 11.13 in her first outdoor dash. On our All-America team, she confirmed her range, earning No. 2s in all three sprints.
That ’22 is on course to be an even better year is already clear. Of her near-record 300, she says, “I did exactly what he said, ‘Get out, pick it up here and here,’ and once I crossed the line, I was like, ‘What happened?’ Then I turned around and the guy was like, ‘You’re No. 2 all-time.’ I still couldn’t process it because I was tired.”
Dad says, “I thought she was going to break the record, because the workout that we had prior to that was unbelievable.” What didn’t end up in the headlines was that Shawnti came back after the 300 to run a 22.45 anchor on the 4×2.
The next time she races the 300, she says, she will be aiming at McLaughlin’s record. However, her best distance, she thinks, may ultimately be the 200.
Dad is torn when put to the same question: “She’s got so much range. She’s diverse. The 100 and 200 are going to be her bread and butter, but I want to make her something we have never seen before. As a kid she hated the 400, and I told her in order to be a great sprinter, you have to be a great quartermiler.
“You ask me which one? I think she’s a quartermiler, but now I think she’s a 200 runner and I think she’s a helluva 500 runner. That’s hard to answer. I think if I had to put my eggs in one basket, maybe the 200.”
The obvious question for anyone who followed dad’s career is what about the hurdles? Shawnti doesn’t mince words. “No. I tried that a few times in my whole life and no, no and no.”
Does that break dad’s heart? Shawnti doesn’t give him time to answer: “I mean, he has two other kids to try it with!” Her younger siblings are both in the game as well. Sister Shari is 12 and brother BJ (Bershawn Junior) have both shown promising speed in age-group meets.
Shawnti indicates that she has two prime goals for this season. One, “to get some national records.” Two will be to represent the U.S. at the World Juniors this August in Cali, Colombia.
Toward those goals, she’s going to keep working hard. Even if that means dealing with a coach who’s also her dad. “It’s harder,” she says with a laugh. “Having a regular coach that you may see like four times a week is nothing like having a coach that you see every single day 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It’s so different.”
Bershawn agrees: “It’s tough trying to be daddy/coach. It’s a tough task. I let her know every day she has a special gift that a lot of kids wish they had and she has to maximize every opportunity. And she has to know that just because you got a gift or are blessed with genetics doesn’t mean that other kids are not working as hard as you are.”
Shawnti is quick to say she is having fun with the process. The best part? “After the meet, when I get a little glory, I get the ‘good jobs’ and the congratulations and I can go out and eat whatever I want.”