The way LaQuisha Jackson sees it, all the changes she's undergone in the past year have prepared her for the biggest move of her running career.
The former high school state champion sprinter from Howard sat out last season after transferring from San Diego State to Southeastern Conference member Missouri, where she followed her sprint coach Carjay Lyles. He now an assistant with the Tigers.
"The girls I ran with in San Diego were like sisters to me, so it wasn't easy to transfer," said Jackson, who is back home for the summer. "But I went that far away to be trained by Coach Carjay, so I knew I wanted to follow him to Missouri and continue my training with him because I trust him to get me where I need to be.
"The first thing I did was look at some of the times of other sprinters in the SEC, and I knew right then that I would have to push myself harder than I had, to be as good as I want to be in this league and later in my career."
After a season of proving she is one of the nation's top collegiate sprinters, setting school and conference records as a freshman at San Diego State, one noticeable difference is how confidently Jackson carries herself now.
Once a painfully shy kid on her way to rewriting every TSSAA girls' sprint record and becoming the most decorated track athlete in Tennessee high school history, Jackson has built from her athletic talent to become more outgoing off the track.
"I didn't want to accept that I was different when I was in high school," Jackson said. "I was afraid people might think I thought I was better than them because I had a gift. But I finally had enough people encourage me that God gave me a gift and I'm supposed to use it, so now I want to be an example of a great athlete who loves Jesus.
"I can be humble off the track, but I don't want to bury the gift God gave me. I want to use it and see how far it can take me."
According to Coach Lyles, a former All-America sprinter at Tennessee, Jackson's journey is just beginning. Now that she will be eligible to run for Missouri beginning with this fall's indoor season, she's expected to become the team's top sprinter and one of the very few in the nation capable of competing in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes as well as any sprint relay.
Her times as a freshman in the 100 and 200 were not only school and conference records at San Diego State but also would have set program records at Missouri and would have qualified her for the SEC championship meet.
"I've been around world-class athletes before, and I don't hesitate to say I expect her to set school records and be a multi-time national champion here at Missouri," Lyles said. "And I don't blink when I say she's also going to be a multi-time Olympian. What she has is extremely rare.
"We had the fastest men's sprinter in the SEC last year, and that's her training partner. She's usually within an arm's distance of him at the finish line when they run."
The plan for this season is to allow Jackson to compete in each of the sprint events and let her times determine which she will concentrate on for the future.
"Next year is a world championship event, and I expect she'll represent the U.S. in at least a couple of events there," Lyles said. "The year after that is the Olympics, and I really believe that's a very realistic goal for her.
"She's a physical specimen who wants to be pushed and trained hard to see just how far and how fast she can go. The sky's the limit with this kid. She's already one of the best sprinters in the country, and she's about to become one of the top sprinters in the world very soon."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.