Shawnti Jackson is a daddy’s girl. She hovers close by her father’s side until its time to get into the starting blocks. Then she’s gone in a flash, trailed by the echo of plastic beads knocking together on her braided pigtails.
The 8-year-old has big shoes to fill as the daughter of four-time world champion and Olympic medalist Bershawn “Batman” Jackson.
Shawnti is already being labeled “Batgirl.”
This week she qualified for the finals in all three of her events – 100, 200 and 4x100 – at the USA Track & Field Junior Olympic National Championships at N.C. A&T.
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She will compete in her last race, the 100-meter finals, on Sunday.
Bershawn Jackson will be watching via an online stream of the event.
“Sometimes I’m more nervous for her than I am for myself,” he said.
Jackson said he wishes he could be in Greensboro for his daughter’s competition, but he’s in London preparing for next month’s World Championships.
The former St. Augustine’s athlete and current Wake Forest resident qualified for the Worlds by placing third in the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. championships in June.
A year ago, he fell one spot short, but the personal setback provided him a chance to witness a milestone for Shawnti.
“Last year she made it to Junior Olympics in the 4x100,” he said. “Last year, I took fourth in the Olympic trials – a guy crashed my hurdle and I took fourth. It was kind of a gift and a curse because it was upsetting and it was depressing, but the best part about it was I got to see my baby run her first Junior Olympics.”
Jackson, 30, was 9 years old when he began running competitively. His daughter already has a head start.
Her parents first realized the young runner’s abilities when she competed against 9 and 10-year-olds as a 6-year-old.
“They didn’t have her age group. ... She said ‘Dad, I still want to run. I don’t care if they’re older,” Jackson said. “Not only did she make the finals, she placed fourth. ... That’s when I said, ‘Baby girl has some talent.’ She’s not scared. She’s fearless. She loves to do it.”
In addition to his daughter, Jackson coaches dozens of other rising track stars as an 8 & Under (previously Sub-bantam) coach with Carolina Elite.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said Christopher Love, a coach with the Raleigh-based track and field club. “He’s out here any time he’s off and the kids just love him. He’s been an incredible asset to our Carolina Elite family.”
While he is "Coach Batman" to many of the athletes with Carolina Elite, he is "Daddy" to just one.
Jackson and his wife, Shannon, said they didn’t want to pressure their eldest child to run track. They wanted it to be her decision.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Shannon Jackson said. “I wouldn’t want to pressure her because her dad runs. We wanted her to come to us and tell us she wanted to run, and that’s what she did.”
“Everywhere we go it’s like ‘that’s Bershawn Jackson’s daughter,’ ” Bershawn Jackson said. “She handles the pressure pretty well now. ... I think once she gets older, the pressure is going to be on her because it is a big shoe to fill ... but I think she’s going to fill it plus three.”
A three-year-old Shawnti watched her father win bronze at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but she’s already racking up medals and titles of her own, having won the 100 and 200-meter titles for her age group at USATF Youth Nationals in Illinois last month.
It’s a meet Jackson first competed in at age 9.
“I only won it one time, and that’s when I was 17 ... she won it when she was seven,” Jackson said. “It took me a long time to win my first youth nationals title; so at her age compared to me, I can’t compete with her. She’s a stud, and I think everything I didn’t achieve as a professional I think I’m going to live it through her.”