Olympian Tara Davis overcomes physical, mental obstacles to reach world stage

Kaitlyn Harmon

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the June 28 flipbook.

Tara Davis became the first Longhorn woman to earn an Olympic bid competing in the long jump after finishing second in the U.S. Olympic Trials over the weekend, but the road to stardom was not easy.

Four years ago, the future two-time NCAA champion chose to compete for the University of Georgia over Florida and Kentucky. In fact, Texas wasn’t even in the running to snag her commitment. Current Texas head coach Edrick Floréal was leading Kentucky’s program during Davis’ recruitment and had a great relationship with the young track prospect, but he ultimately lost out to a Georgia team that Davis said told her everything she wanted to hear.

Davis’ freshman year was not kind to her. She lost four weeks of training due to mononucleosis and suffered fractures on her L4 and L5 vertebrae in her back during the season, all while struggling with her parents’ divorce. Davis said all these factors contributed to her depression and dissociation with Georgia.

But then entered Floréal, who was named Texas’ head coach in June 2018, a few months before Davis’ sophomore season would begin. When the long jumper decided it was time for a fresh start, the University of Texas seemed like the perfect landing spot.

“When I found out (Floréal, who had) recruited me from Kentucky, was at Texas, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to go to Texas,’” Davis said. “Texas is my dream school. … I’ve always wanted to be a Longhorn.”

Her dream of running for Texas, however, was soon halted by Georgia head coach Petros Kyprianou. Davis was forced to sit out her first season at Texas when Kyprianou chose to bar her from NCAA competition for one year due to her transferring. On top of the NCAA block, Davis was still suffering from a back injury, which prevented Texas from allowing her to compete.

The fire within Davis had been building for two years. As things began to turn around for her, the then-junior broke her foot in December 2019. Three months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the remainder of the indoor season, as well as the entire outdoor season, was canceled. In December 2020, Davis created a pros and cons list, debating if she should quit track. Six months later she would become a two-time NCAA champion and first-time Olympian.

A former coach, an NCAA blocking, two back fractures and a broken foot could not stop Davis from continuing to chase after her NCAA and Olympic dreams. With a community of friends and family in her corner, Davis found the strength to keep going.

When Davis was 4, her dad told her that she would have to make sacrifices to be on top, and it’s why the word “sacrifice” is tattooed on her ribcage. After years of sacrificing her body to injuries, Davis takes nothing for granted.

“I actually surprise myself every time I jump,” Davis said. “I didn’t think I’d be here, being able to run track again and being able to just wake up in the morning. I really take it for the opposite of taking it for granted.”

During the NCAA Outdoor Championships on June 9-12, Davis saw Kyprianou for the first time since her time at Georgia. Davis said she almost broke down when her former coach congratulated her, and she was told by other people that she shouldn’t give him the time of day.

“I’m not that person,” Davis said. “I’m a forgiver. Two years went by and I held my grudge as long as I could. Life goes on with or without him.”

A trip to the Olympics justifies all the hard work Davis put into her track career while also serving as inspiration for collegiate athletes who struggle with both mental and physical health ailments.

“It’s my dream to go to the Olympics and represent USA on that big of a stage,” Davis said. “Knowing my history and knowing my story, … if I’m able to do it, anything is possible. … There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”