At age 31, Brittney Reese stands at the pinnacle of her sport. Last August, at the IAAF World Championships in London, she recorded a leap of 7.02 meters to claim a gold medal in the women’s long jump for the fourth time since 2009. She also topped the podium in 2009, ’11, and ’13. No other woman has won four long-jump gold medals since the world championships were first held in 1983.
Reese also claimed the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London and took silver last summer in Rio. She has also bested the field three times at the World Indoor Championships (in 2010, ’12, and ’16) and took a silver medal at this year’s Championships in Birmingham, England.
Obviously, Reese is a talented athlete. But what makes her the best at what she does is her mental focus. “You have to be mentally and physically strong to compete in the track and field world,” she says.
“I had to learn how to control my energy, and how to control my mindset. I know that in this field that a lot of people don’t last long. Being mentally strong is the key to success.
“I’ve been working with a life coach that helps me with that, but I just love track and field and I just love competing.”
Reese was born in Southern California but attended high school in Gulfport, Mississippi where she was a standout basketball player. She first tried long jumping when the track coach recruited basketball players for his own squad and found she had a knack for it; by the time she graduated she was a state champion in both the long jump and triple jump
From there, it was on to Mississippi Gulf Coach Community College; eventually, she found herself having to choose between basketball and track and field.
“My mom basically told me if I wanted to make it on my own, go with track and field,” Reese recalls, “but that if I wanted to continue to play basketball and rely on a team, go with basketball.” So I decided to rely on myself; I took a scholarship to (the University of Mississippi).”
At Ole Miss, Reese won the NCAA outdoor long-jump title twice; she competed in the 2008 Olympic Trials and won her first world championship the next year.
As a professional, Reese further embraced the concept of self-reliance. “Once you turn professional, it’s all on you,” she says.
Reese needed all of her considerable mental resolves over the winter of 2013-14 while she was recuperating from a torn hip labrum. She underwent surgery following the injury, which she sustained in November of 2013. She says rehab was “The toughest thing I’ve had to do as far as getting back into shape and getting back to my winning ways.”
Reese was jumping again by the following March but she says in hindsight she came back too soon. “That type of injury you really don’t recover from for like two years,” she says. “So it really did take me two years to really get over the pain. I was still having pain in those years. It wasn’t to where I couldn’t jump. I just managed (the pain) by getting massages and things like that.”
Reese prides herself on her longevity. She’d like to continue competing through the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. “I’m giving myself to 2020 to finish in an Olympic year and go out with a bang,” she says.
If Reese medals in Tokyo, she’ll become just the third woman in history to win three Olympic long-jump medals (the other two are Heike Drechsler of Germany and American Jackie Joyner-Kersee).
But Reece also wants to make a difference outside of the long-jump pit, in Gulfport and elsewhere. Her hometown has known some hard times, having been in the path of Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In 2011 Reese donated 100 Thanksgiving turkeys to disadvantaged Gulfport residents, including some who were homeless. “(Donating) the turkeys was just giving thanks to a community that has been me all these years,” she said.”
Reese also regularly stages clinics for youngsters in her hometown, which feature appearances by coaches from a variety of sports, not just track and field.
“I bring in different coaches from different areas,” she says, “college coaches, high school coaches. And have them show the kids different types of drills to help them improve themselves in their sport.
“Track and field revolve around a lot of sports as far as speed and agility. With every sport, you really have to have speed or agility. That’s the main focus of my clinics.”
Reese’s philanthropy extends beyond the realm of sports. When Gulfport celebrated Brittney Reese Day she announced the creation of a $1,500 scholarship for a Gulfport High School Student. Applicants, who need not be athletes, submit an essay for consideration and school officials select the two finalists, one male, and one female. Reese herself chooses the winner. She also supports a scholarship in Baltimore County, Maryland, since her agent is based in the Baltimore area.
“It’s just me trying to be a role model for kids,” Reese says, just to show them good things do come out of cities.
“The scholarship is actually just another way for me to give back. I was lucky enough to get a full ride to both the schools I attended. I know that $1,500 can go a long way. I just want the kids to know I’m here with them and I want them to maybe make something of themselves.”