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Olympic High Jumper Settles In for Golden Career

Vashti Cunningham has a hop in her step, as the youngest woman ever to win the high jump at the World Indoor Championships. She explains, “The speed you use, the turn and the plant, the technique as well. Every little thing you do is going to lead up to success or failure.“

More leaps are likely to further Vashti’s success! She currently holds the Junior Indoor Record, clearing 6 feet 6 and a quarter inches – a high standard much like the mark set for being the oldest daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham. Vashti says, “There was times where people expected me to be like the best athlete in the school because you’re Randall Cunningham’s daughter. And I was like okay, he can throw and he can jump. But I’m just trying to figure out like what sport I’m going to be in, you know. So I just kept doing what I wanted to do and figuring myself out.”   

Randall was also a high jumper in high school. He’s Vashti’s coach, while serving as a Senior Pastor in Las Vegas. Randall says, “My whole thing is that you shoot for the best to glorify God, do everything as if unto Him. And if you don’t get it, you’re still able to say ‘thank you’ and you achieve more than you would have if you had tried. He won’t let you down. Trust Him.”  Vashti shares, “The greatest advantage is having him as a pastor and a father, someone to turn to spiritually and in real life, situations where I don’t know what to do, opportunity where like you could do this or you could pray about it and figure out the real solutions, what God would want you to do.”

The options are coming. She chose to forego college competition to turn pro, signing with Nike.  But her new life isn’t all business, 18 year-old Vashti still roams her dad’s high school football sidelines with a camera!  Vashti says, “I love photography because it’s a time where like I can use my creative instincts and what I’ve been picturing in my head to make something come to life. Then there are times where you can see it completely backwards. If you go with a different angle, then people will see it from a different angle. I just like that. “                                       

She already brings a different skillset to the high jump at her age - an extraordinary combination of athleticism, competitiveness, teachability and mental discipline. Her routine includes staring down the high jump bar. Vashti explains that, “I’m confronting the bar, like letting myself know that I can get over this. My dad always told me like if you can jump and your head can go over the bar, then your whole body can go over the bar. So I’ve always just went up and looked at it, got on my tippy toes, realized like okay, you’re a little taller, you can easily put your body over this.”                                                                                           

Last summer in Rio, Vashti became the youngest athlete in 36 years to make the U-S Olympic Track and Field Team. Despite the hype she didn’t medal, saying, “The one thing that stuck with me at the Olympics was is setting my life up. A really good opportunity to just get my first big international meet out of the way for the road coming ahead.”

The high jumping phenom continues to create a buzz, inspiring hope for future medal finishes. Her prospects are so promising many suggest Vashti to be the emerging face for U.S. High-Jumping.  She responds saying, “It’s all about sprints, it’s all about gymnastics, you know, basketball. Okay, I’m just a high jumper. But to hear something like that is just heart warming because people don’t really think of high jump as like a big event or anything like that. And it would be cool if I could be the person to know - to introduce it more.”

As the sport’s youthful high-flying, high jumper – Vashti draws balance and sensibility from her mom, Felicity Cunningham – a former professional ballerina who empathizes with the demands and discipline of performance.  Vashti says, “My mom really keeps me grounded. She’s always there, also with the spiritual part and just like high jump is not your life; it’s just –it’s just a small part. Like it’s not who you are; it’s what you do.”                                          

Felicity believes, “Our children are a gift from God. I would’ve never thought, once Vashti came, that this is what would’ve unfolded for her, and for her life. The best thing is to be a parent and see the wonderful gifts that keep on unwrapping before our eyes. I’m very thankful to the Lord, because He knew.”

Vashti says, “I’m just trying my best to keep doing everything so that I can not be asking without giving. I always say to myself going into a meet, pray God please let me be the one to give you glory at the end. I say the Lord’s Prayer throughout the whole competition, you know, with more emphasis the next time so that I can really feel it moving in me.”

The teen turned champion, Vashti is raising the bar of achievement - as she jump-starts her own convictions, saying, “God doesn’t set you up to fail, you know. And He’s not going to bring you this far for no reason. He has plans for me in the future. And that’s how I see the Holy Spirit all like moving throughout my life. All the glory to God, first and foremost.”

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