If there’s anyone among us who hasn’t dreamed of taking up a sport and, within months, becoming a champion, then please stand up and see yourself out, while the rest of us try not to be too jealous of Erin Jackson.
Because that’s exactly what the 25-year-old from Ocala did in January. She qualified for the Olympics in long track speedskating just four months after lacing up ice skates.
When the Winter Games kick off this weekend, keep an eye out for Jackson, a graduate of Ocala’s Forest High School and the University of Florida. Then elevate your watch-party conversations with these five facts:
1. Jackson may be new to speedskating, but she’s been on wheels in one form or the other since 2003. She won multiple medals as an inline skater at the World Championships and the Pan American Championships. Jackson also is a member of Team USA Roller Derby and played for her hometown team, the Ocala Cannibals.
2. She always knew she’d make the switch to speedskating to pursue her Olympic dreams, but Jackson put it off to finish college. She graduated cum laude in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree from the Materials Science and Engineering program.
3. If she sounds like an egghead, Jackson offers confirmation. As a child in Ocala, she says she carried a dictionary with her everywhere she went. "If I didn’t know a word and I asked my dad what it meant, he told me to look it up," she says.
4. Jackson has been to China three times and Taiwan once, but this will be her first time in South Korea. To prepare for the time difference in Pyeongchang, she and the rest of her team are sleeping in late and staying up until the early hours of the morning. Coming with her? Her father, who hasn’t traveled much since his military days. They were able to fund his flight through a Kickstarter. "My dad is a pretty quiet, laid-back guy," Jackson says, "but it’s pretty cool to see how excited he is."
5. She recently moved to Salt Lake City — there just wasn’t enough ice in Ocala (read: any) for her new career. After the Olympics, Jackson plans to pursue her master’s degree in either biomedical or materials engineering. But Jackson says she’s frequently Florida-bound to visit friends in Tampa and her father in Ocala. Her mother passed away when she was in high school. Jackson, who is the first African American woman to qualify for the long track team, knows she would be proud.
Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.