Dave Hyde: Through years and tears, Boynton Beach’s Jessica Ramsey’s Olympic dream takes flight in Tokyo


Late at night, deep in the dark, Jessica Ramsey and her fiancé will find a remote field — someplace no one can hear — and she’ll bellow into the void:

“I AM NO. 1 AT EVERYTHING I DO!”

She yelled that mantra into silence for five empty years. She repeated it often during a three-hour, round-trip commute to practice. She said it in her various day jobs — once, she held three jobs to keep her dream alive.

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She said it aloud last month at the U.S Olympic trials, every rival hearing, her parents in Boynton Beach watching, before throwing the shot put further than any American — further than anyone in the world entering the Tokyo Olympics except a two-time Olympic medalist from China.

“I can do better,” says Ramsey, 29.

Wait, she wants to rephrase that.

“I will do better — I’m coming back with the gold,— she says. “It all starts with belief.”

This is an Olympic story of that belief — belief in self, belief in dreams, belief when there’s only belief in a journey of years and tears that began with a Boynton Beach Track Club practice.

Ramsey was eight or nine years old that day. There were lots of kids — rambunctious, high-energy kids — practicing at Congress Middle School. She was a sprinter, just like her mother, but wandered to the shot-put pit. Her first throw showed her natural strength.

“Then she said, ‘I’m going to throw the discus also,’ “ said Clyde Harris, the club’s coach. “She threw it so far it landed in the street.”

He told her to be careful.

“Next thing I know I see a discus heading to the street and a car coming,” he said. “It missed the car by an inch. I turned her the other way and said, ‘See the baseball field? Throw it that way, you won’t hurt anyone.’ She threw it over the baseball fence.”

That’s just one moment. Ramsey’s journey is full of them. Her father, Rick, remembers going to her middle-school meet and, “This guy walked over and said, ‘That’s your daughter? She’s going to be great.’ You see the form on her?’ I’ve never forgot that.”

But this was a straight-line story of a dream taking off in full gallop. The dream wasn’t even clear back then. Ramsey saw herself as a sprinter. At 5-6 and 158 pounds, she was the fastest at Boynton Beach High School, running the 100- and 200-yard races and anchoring the relays.

She also was a cheerleader and played basketball. She had such good energy and a high spirit that she competed at everything until a couple of ideas collided.

The first was Harris’ persistence. His club turned out Olympic sprinter Walter Dix, NFL stars Vince Wilfork and Carlos Jenkins and several more college athletes. He knew what talent looked like.

“I’d say, ‘Jessica, stay with track. You’re not going to be tall enough for basketball,’ ” he said. “She said I hadn’t even seen her play basketball. Eventually, in 11th grade, I went and saw her play. She was good, a tank going down the lane — everyone got out of her way.”

She noticed her changing body, too. “I wanted to eat all the time,” she said. “I got a little bigger and I started lifting weights a little bit. That’s when I got into the shot put.”

She dedicated herself as a junior and won the state title, throwing 44 ¼ feet — more than four feet further than the runner-up.

“Even then I don’t think I took it seriously,” Ramsey said. “I still thought I was going to school for sprinting.”

That’s when the second push to focusing on shot put came. Colleges began recruiting her. She saw a path open up. She won the state championship again as a senior and more than a dozen colleges were interested. She expected to go to Miami or Central Florida when academic issues arose — and her destination changed.

She ended up in South Plains (Tex.) Community College. She then joined a brother, one of six siblings, at Western Kentucky. She became an All-American shot-putter as a senior. But her throws weren’t yet up to world-class standard.

“I knew I could get there,” she said.

She took all her money and moved to Carbondale, Illinois, to work with coach John Smith. Two months later, he took the job at the University of Mississippi. She packed up again for Oxford, Miss.

That’s when she took on the real and raw life of an Olympic dreamer. She trained hard. She worked to survive just as hard. She took jobs at a senior care facility, a daycare facility and selling sweets at Insomnia Cookies. When she got a raise at Insomnia, she quit the senior care job. She dropped the daycare job for another at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

It was exhausting, chasing this dream. But she bet everything on the 2016 Olympic trials.

She then bombed at them.

“It was devastating,” she said.

“She went back to the hotel, looked at me and cried, ‘Mom, I didn’t make it,’ “ remembers Angela Ramsey. “I just let her cry. But a day or two later she said, ‘I’m going to make the next Olympics. I promise you.’ “

Four more years of work. For more years of jobs. She moved to Memphis to be with her fiancé, Devante Thomas, and drove the 90 minutes to Oxford.

Most of all, she examined herself. She changed training to add more cardio and flexibility. She changed throwing techniques from the slide step to a rotational spin move.

“I also improved in believing in myself,” Ramsey said. “That was a big step. If you don’t believe completely in your movement, what you’re doing in the ring, it’ll show in the results.”

A breakthrough came at the 2018 national championships. She took the lead with a throw of 63 feet, one inch — a world-class number. She didn’t win, but that opened doors to other meets.

She won the bronze medal at the 2019 Pan-American Games. She got sponsored by adidas, allowing her to work less. Just as everything was aligning, the pandemic then hit in 2020. The Olympics were postponed. She stood in a career crossroads.

“I got to the point where I didn’t know if I wanted to go on,” she said. “Being an athlete, you lose the opportunity to do other dreams. I like working with kids. I have a passion to be a positive influencer. I thought of starting that career.”

She decided to keep chasing her Olympic dream. That long journey of moving around the country, of working multiple jobs, of hours-long commutes and of forever training — all that went into one winning throw at the Olympic trials in June.

“Everything felt right,” Ramsey said.

The shot put went 66 feet, a U.S. Olympic trials record. Only China’s Lijiao Gong (66-10) has thrown further this year.

Her parents watched on television and celebrated in Boynton Beach — “her mom did cartwheels,” Rick Ramsey said. Harris couldn’t stop smiling at the television.

And Ramsey? “I was like, ‘Wow, I did it, I really did it,” she said. “But as it sunk in I said, ‘OK, what do I need to do next? Let’s get back to work.’ “

The woman who yells into the night, who repeats a motivational mantra, whose fuel is self-belief, has a new line these days.

“I’m coming back with the gold,” she confidently says.



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