Vashti Cunningham may be on the younger side of the track and field spectrum, but the 24-year-old competes like she’s a veteran.
“It is normal to me, competing against athletes older than me,” Cunningham said. “I’m not usually intimidated but very focused on myself and the task at hand. My number one focus is giving God the glory for all my success whether I win or don’t place first.”
Cunningham has been participating in track and field since elementary school when former NFL quarterback and her father — and coach — Randall Cunningham signed her up.
“He brought me to a track and the first thing I did was kick off my flip flops and sprint a 400,” Vashti recalled. “High jumping came a couple years after.”
Jumping seemed like a natural progression, as Vashti was a ballet dancer just like her mother before converting to track. And similar to ballet, track had an element of the sport that Vashti was attuned to — sharp focus, exact skill, and indistinguishable movements that are routinely the same every time.
Now, the high jumper has made a name for herself separate from the association of her father. Vashti has placed first in every United States National Championship she has competed in, except for one, since 2016. The father-daughter duo have an interesting approach to training; it is much more weight intensive than jumping. While she still gets her jumping reps in, Vashti’s average training day “looks like a lot of weights.”
In addition to her time in the weight room, Vashti has a deep foundation in her Faith, another testament to her father, who after retiring from the NFL, became a pastor. The best advice Vashti has ever been given about high jumping was to “keep my focus on blessing God, and to trust in Him.”
Vashti has taken two trips to the Olympics so far — Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020. While those didn’t exactly yield the results she wanted, Vashti doesn’t seem to be stressed about it and believes her time will come. For now, Vashti’s immediate future goals are set on gold medals, as it’s the only thing she hasn’t won yet.
“I hope to win the Olympics in Paris,” Vashti said simply.
Photo credits: TrackTown USA, Vashti Cunningham’s Instagram