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Erin Jackson: Engineering A Skating Champion From The Rink To The Ice

By Caroline Kurdej | Feb. 10, 2021, 5:08 p.m. (ET)

Erin Jackson competes at the ISU Four Continents Speed Skating Championships on Jan. 31, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisc. 

 

Though ice wasn’t much of a feature when Erin Jackson was growing up in central Florida, she’s been skating “since I’ve been able to walk adequately,” she said with a warm laugh.

After all, you don’t necessarily need ice to be a skater.

Jackson recalls her mother, also an avid skater, strapping her feet into plastic yellow and blue Fisher-Price roller skates, then taking them on a spin on the driveway.

“And then I became what’s called a rink rat,” Jackson said. “I went around to the skating rinks in my spare time, hanging out with all the other skaters.” 

From there Jackson picked up figure skating for two years. But when her coaches moved out west to help their daughters pursue their Olympic dreams, Jackson pivoted again, this time to inline speedskating.

In her hometown of Ocala, Florida, which happens to be a hotbed for inline speedskating, Jackson showed natural talent, and before long it was her turn to move out west to pursue an Olympic dream.

Just four months before the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Jackson picked up a pair of ice speedskates — and a new sport. At those trials she flew across the ice to finish third in the 500-meter long track event and qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. In doing so, she became the first Black woman to make the U.S. Olympic long track speedskating team.

After overcoming the initial shock of her achievement, she had a moment to reflect. 

“This is a really awesome opportunity to be an example,” she said. “Because I wish there were more people of color and greater diversity in these winter sports.”

This is a really awesome opportunity to be an example. Because I wish there were more people of color and greater diversity in these winter sports.”

Erin Jackson, Speedskating

Defying The Odds
Jackson, now 28, has overcome multiple challenges on her way to becoming an Olympic speedskater. As a Black woman, one challenge she’s acutely aware of is the low representation of women of color in winter sports. Jackson has talked with EDGE Outdoors, an organization that aims to bring more diversity to snow sports and promote the normalization of Black and Brown bodies on ice rinks and ski slopes around the country.

Borrowing from that organization’s mission, Jackson has offered up a potential solution to the sport’s athlete advisory committee — eliminating entry cost barriers by providing scholarships to winter sports for people of color.

“I think representation is a problem and something that we can improve on,” Jackson said. “Lowering that barrier and giving athletes a chance to get started in winter sports.” 

Before making the Olympic team, finances were a pressing concern for Jackson’s future.

“How am I going to continue living affordably out here?” she asked herself.

Not to mention the price of equipment and competing in her newly adopted sport.

The Olympic speedskater is striving for the impossible beyond the ice and roller rinks. Even after graduating with honors from the University of Florida’s Materials Science & Engineering program, Jackson couldn’t resist the opportunity to continue pursuing school when it came along.

In between practices six days a week, and multiple practices in a day, Jackson is working toward her associate degree in exercise science at Salt Lake Community College. (She’s already earned her associate degree in computer science.) This semester, she’s taking biology, biology lab and first aid. A master’s degree might be next.

She conveyed similar energy and drive from her schoolwork into the questionnaire for consideration by Team Toyota, a group of Olympic and Paralympic athletes sponsored by the automaker.

“They said it was one of the best applications they’d seen,” Jackson shared with a smile. 

The efforts paid off. As one of four new Team Toyota members, Jackson will be bringing the Florida heat to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. The company is continuing its global “Start Your Impossible” campaign, emphasizing its commitment to creating an ever-better society through the freedom of movement. 

“I’m excited to show Toyota I can be a great member of the team,” Jackson said. “And I just want to go out there and do even better.” 

In the future, Jackson envisions leveraging her materials engineering background to work in biomechanics. She hopes to design prosthetics or medical or sports equipment to help people become stronger athletes and better understand their bodies.

“I've also wanted to learn more about the body and how it works to help me be a better athlete,” Jackson said.
 

Caroline Kurdej

Caroline Kurdej is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a former Division I collegiate athlete based in Chicago. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Erin Jackson

Long Track Speedskating