Golden: Texas jumper Tara Davis has turned despair into a summer feel-good story
Davis turns 22 in two weeks
- Davis is having a breakout season after missing the last two seasons due to injuries and COVID-19 which shut down the 2020 season.
- She is also a growing social media star.
- Her record-breaking jump of 23-5 1/2 is the fifth longest in U.S. history
It’s Tara Davis’ world, and she's delighted to give us a peek.
Behind the Texas junior's huge personality beats the heart of a fierce competitor on a collision course with superstardom.
She's the most discussed long jumper on the planet these days, and that’s just fine with her because she has settled into what promises to be fruitful long-term partnerships with celebrity through track and field and a humongous presence on social media.
Davis, who will turn 22 on May 20, doesn’t shy away from the attention. She is most comfortable when those lights are the brightest. She wants those cameras on her. She feeds off the fans and channels that energy to the little board that helps propel her skyward.
“I’ve always loved the camera ever since I was younger when my parents were always filming things,” Davis said. “I’m comfortable with who I am and how I am on the runway and how I am off the runway. I want to show my true personality, and that’s just me.”
Davis’ relationship with the spotlight is similar to that thing Supergirl has going with the sun. She doesn’t mind doing a bit of entertaining while giving the work to the opposition, often with a celebratory scream and a little shimmy dance achieving the desired result.
And somehow, it always gets caught on tape.
“If there’s a camera on the track, I guarantee you Tara Davis knows exactly where it is at all times,” Texas track coach Edrick Floréal said.
Lately the photos have been of Davis in full celebration mode, from setting a national indoor record in March with a leap of 22 feet, 9 inches to shattering Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s outdoor mark with a 23-5¼ jump at the Texas Relays just two weeks later to the YouTube videos with longtime boyfriend Hunter Woodhall, a Paralympic champion who's the first man with two prosthetic legs to run track for a Division I program (Arkansas).
They met in February 2017 as high school seniors at the Simplot Games in Pocatello, Idaho, and minutes later, Woodhall told a friend, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
Davis' megawatt smile has been her calling card online — after her success in the pit and in the sprint hurdles events, of course — but it wasn’t always there. The journey has been anything but easy.
Just two years go, she was seriously contemplating walking away from the sport. College had not been kind to Davis, who left Agoura (Calif.) High School as the national champion in the long jump and sprint hurdles.
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A contentious transfer from Georgia to Texas after her freshman year came at a difficult time when a laundry list of injuries — including two broken vertebrae, a broken hip and a broken foot — conspired against her childhood dream of becoming an Olympic champion.
She had beaten hundreds of competitors from the time she stepped on the track in grade school to becoming an All-American her freshman year at Georgia, but she had never come up against a foe as formidable as depression.
The broken foot in 2019 was nearly the breaking point, she said, but through therapy sessions, long conversations with her parents and her growing relationship with Woodhall, she persevered after fighting the added frustration of the 2020 season getting canceled.
“Being injured and going through COVID and having these mental breakdowns every other week, it really showed me how valuable life is,” she said. “I have so many goals set for myself. I knew if I quit now, I would never succeed for those goals. I just know that the way I want my life to be set up wasn’t being depressed and being sad or being injured, so I just fought my way through those mental battles, and I came out strong.”
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It’s been a long road, but it’s all paying off.
“Over the past four years, both in our own ways, we’ve gone through so much, whether it’s physical or mental challenges or injuries,” Woodhall said. “We’ve kind of been there, through it all, right next to each other. This is finally where it’s finally all starting to come together.”
With the Big 12 outdoor championships coming up, followed by the NCAAs and the Olympic Trials later this summer, Davis, who holds the world's top long jump of 2021, is in full bloom. Olympic gold could be in the offing if she continues to consistently rack up jumps of 22-10 and over.
Her record-tying effort came after two scratches, which underscores the confidence flowing through her veins. She now owns the fifth-best long jump in U.S. history.
“It's more about consistency than a PR. I have some athletes that can jump 22-6 and then the next meet they jump 21 feet,” Floréal said. “You don’t know which one will show up. If you can jump 22-10 every meet, which she’s doing, then you’ll be almost impossible to beat because somebody will have to have their very best day to jump 22-10, and to you that’s just the norm.”
Unlike American Olympic legends such as Joyner-Kersee, Marion Jones and Germany’s gold standard Heike Dreschler — big women who all stood 5-10 — Davis is conquering her sport in a compact 5-3, 115-pound frame. How does so much explosion come from such a small package?
Floréal explained that genetics has a lot to do with it. Add the fact that Davis can squat nearly 300 pounds — a feat that's almost entirely about leg strength — and you get the idea.
She’s a physical marvel.
“Being 5-10 is great, but you have to move 160 pounds off the board at 20 miles per hour whereas if you have to move 115 pounds off the ground at 20 miles per hour, it’s far easier,” he said. “If these smaller women can really buy in to being really, really strong, you get these sort of pocket Hercules types of athletes that are genetic freaks of nature.”
Davis said she has a measured vertical leap of 33 inches, so I had to ask her: At 5-3, can you touch the rim of a 10-foot hoop?
“Sure, I can definitely touch the rim,” she said. “I did it my senior year in high school.”
A dunk might be in her future, but not the immediate one.
For now, it’s about qualifying for Tokyo, bringing home a medal and yes, making more videos with Woodhall, whose productions incorporate cool graphics and music. The videos routinely top 100,000 views for a subscriber list that’s well over 200,000.
In 2018, a video of Davis chronicling her flight from Georgia to Arkansas to surprise her beau garnered more than 1.9 million views.
Doctors amputated Woodhall’s legs below the knee when he was a year old due to a birth defect. Now 22, he's already a household name in Paralympic and social media circles. He left Arkansas to turn pro in February so he could devote more time to his social media and apparel businesses.
While the NCAA continues a sloth’s pace in establishing profitability for athletes in the area of image and likeness, Woodhall is making good money off his videos and with his business partners in the 5-month-old company Giant Hoodie, which reportedly sold more than 100,000 hoodies and was featured on Oprah’s favorite things of 2020. He has also appeared on "Ellen."
Once Davis decides to turn pro, which seems soon given what she’s doing on the track, she will also be able to take advantage of her enormous popularity, at the track and at the bank.
The two have maintained a long-distance relationship for four years but are planning to move into a house he just purchased in Fayetteville once the Olympics are over.
Theirs is a love story that did not happen without struggle, particularly for Davis, who admittedly sat in some very dark rooms not too long ago. To her credit, she put in the work, not only on herself but on her craft to get to a great place in her young life.
Her story is one that can help others going through struggles.
“As a Black woman, I feel like me being an inspiration to other Black girls and other ethnicities really puts a light into my life and into their life during these times of racial injustice,” said. “I just feel like I needed to keep going to make them happy and make myself happy and satisfied.”
After three really tough years, she has arrived nationally with plans to take her act to the world stage, hopefully with the open date coming in Japan this summer.
Tara Davis has the chops.
Get the cameras ready because she's must-see TV.