April 20, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Jeannelle Scheper has never been afraid to go the extra mile when it comes to achieving her goals for both her track and field career as well as her academics. So it's only fitting that she put in the extra effort to make sure that her coach, South Carolina assistant head track and field coach Delethea Quarles, is with her during her quest for Olympic gold at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio De Janeiro while competing for her home country of Saint Lucia.
"We're definitely really close," Scheper said of her relationship with Quarles. "I always joke and say that she is like my second mother, especially because I came here at 16 years old. She kind of had to take up that position because I was so young and naïve and still learning. She took up that position as a teacher and a mentor and someone who was always there for me, even off of the track."
"I get that way with a lot of my athletes," Quarles said. "I think I wear that as a badge of honor that they see me that way. I also know that there is a line with me as a coach that they understand as well. After meeting her mother and spending time with her, I am really humbled because her mother is just an awesome person."
Scheper, who was a five time All-American high jumper for South Carolina's track and field team from 2011-2015, was only 16 years old when she began to compete for the Gamecocks in January 2011. She qualified for the Olympics at the 2015 SEC Championships after hitting a program-record height of six-feet, five-inches to win the conference gold medal. In track and field, it is not unusual for the national team coaches to handle administrative tasks while allowing individual athletes to be supervised by their personal coaches. Scheper set up a "GoFundMe" web page, which allowed supporters to donate to the cause of bringing Quarles to the Olympics without having to buy her own ticket.
"Making the `GoFundMe' page was just me taking the initiative to figure out a way I could do something for her because she has done so much for me," Scheper said. "I knew that whether I was able to pay for her to go, which is how it is traditionally done with coaches and their athletes, she would be there. I didn't have the finances to do it on my own, so I thought that I knew a lot of people who would like to help me and would love to be a part of this journey. She told me that regardless of what happens, that she was going to be there."
One of those who chose to be a part of that journey, so to speak, was perhaps the most significant name in the history of the high jump, as pioneer Dick Fosbury contributed to the cause. Fosbury won gold for the United States in the high jump in the 1968 Olympics by perfecting the "Fosbury Flop," which revolutionized the sport with a new style of high jump that is now the standard style for the event.
"He sent me a little message, and I was just blown away," Scheper beamed. "I just sat at the computer and didn't know how to respond. I sent him a message. I had to tell him thank you for everything he had done for the sport, and of course thanks for the donation. It just made my entire day; my entire year!"
She is just a really gracious and grateful person. I think it has a lot to do with why she is so successful.
After researching flights online, she set a goal of raising $1,500.00, and once the goal was reached, she shut the page down. For Scheper, getting to the Olympics is the culmination of a lifelong dream.
"To get to the point where I can compete amongst the people who I emulate and idolize is pretty amazing," Scheper said. "Coach D kind of threw this idea around during my freshman year when we were talking about my dreams and goals. To have the opportunity to actually do that is pretty incredible."
Scheper is a gifted athlete, but she declared that coming to South Carolina was instrumental in developing her skills for the next level.
"When I came here, I was only jumping five-feet, seven-inches, and I was recruited to be a multi-eventer because I wasn't particularly spectacular in any event. To go from five-feet, seven-inches to six-feet, five-inches in four and a half years exceeded my expectations about coming here. I knew that it was going to be a huge improvement because of the availability of facilities, coaching staff, the nutrition, the Dodie (Academic Enrichment Center), and the academics. The improvements that we made were pretty great. Coach D and I have come a long, long way since freshman year."
As she tries to remain focused on her daily training, Scheper can't help but think about what is on the horizon at the Olympics.
"If I said I wasn't nervous, I would be lying," Scheper laughed. "In that nervousness, there is so much excitement. I can't wait to be in the Olympic Village and feel what that feels like. This only happens once every four years. Only a handful of people ever get to say they are an Olympian. I feel so blessed and so privileged to have been provided with all of the things that have allowed me to achieve all that I have and to get to this point."
Saint Lucia has never won an Olympic medal in any sport. Currently, only Scheper and one other athlete have qualified for the 2016 Olympics for the small sovereign island country in the Caribbean, but there are several other track and field and swimming athletes who are close and may be on the team before the torch is lit.
"I have imagined so many times what it would be like to be standing on the podium, watching my flag go up, and listening to the anthem," Scheper said. "I know I would definitely be bawling. I'd be crying for sure."
With 26 years of collegiate coaching under her belt, and numerous assignments on the Team USA staff, Quarles noted that her work with Scheper is special.
"After being on all of those staffs, this is more personal to me," Quarles said. "It has my signature to it. A lot of coaches strive for these things and never live to see it. Personally, I am honored, fortunate, and excited about the opportunity."
"I'm not sure that many athletes have the kind of relationship that we have," Scheper said. "I remember some days in practice here if I was having a bad day, she would sit on the high jump mat with me and just talk and hash things out. That kind of care and genuineness and kindness has really made me appreciate her. Coach D has given me confidence. She was very instrumental in shaping me when it comes to my character. Your years in college are crucial in forming important parts of who you are, and she was definitely integral in that."
Scheper hopes that the 2016 Summer Olympics will be the first step for a fruitful professional career, but whenever she hangs up her spikes, she is just as likely to succeed off the track. She is currently working on her master's in economics after earning her undergraduate degree last May in math and economics. She was also a three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and was the 2014 recipient of the University of South Carolina President's Award, which is the highest honor given to a student-athlete.
"Often times, when it comes to an elite or professional athlete, it is assumed that there is an attitude of entitlement, and she is just the opposite," Quarles said. "Anything she can do for those who help her, she is just a really gracious and grateful person. I think it has a lot to do with why she is so successful."
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