High jumper Vashti Cunningham is coached by a pastor. He’s also a former NFL quarterback, one of the most athletic QBs the game has ever seen, and he competed in high jump himself when he was younger.
Her coach is also her dad, the legendary Randall Cunningham, who went to four Pro Bowls and starred mostly for the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings over his 16-year NFL career.
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And he’s doing a great job coaching his 23-year-old daughter, as she’s the best high jumper in the U.S. and a medal contender for next month’s Tokyo Olympics. Last month, Vashti set a personal record jump of 6 feet, 7.5 inches, which stands as the highest jump worldwide in 2021. She won her event at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday as the only competitor to clear 6-5.
A special Father's Day for high jumper @vashtizzle_ and her father & coach Randall Cunningham 👏
Vashti looks to qualify for Tokyo tonight.#TrackFieldTrials21 | #TokyoOlympics
📺 NBC pic.twitter.com/QFeRCwBVI0
— On Her Turf (@OnHerTurf) June 21, 2021
Cunningham competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics as an 18-year-old, the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to qualify for the Olympics since 1980, and she placed 13th overall. Three years later, she took bronze at the 2019 World Championships.
After securing a berth in her second Olympics on Sunday, Cunningham said she aims to at least match her personal best in Tokyo, if not exceed it.
“I do plan on peaking at the Olympics,” Cunningham told the media. “I’m just waiting on God’s timing,”
Prior to her 2016 Olympic debut, Cunningham also spoke about her faith.
“I try to stay calm and focus on what I have to do,” she said prior to the 2016 trials. “Trust God and let things happen.”
Part of the reason for Vashti’s faith in God is due to the influence of her parents. Randall serves as the senior pastor for Remnant Ministries in Las Vegas, while her mother, Felicity, is the church’s women’s pastor.
Some may recognize Randall for his role as the leader of his church, but many others know him as a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback. He starred for 11 years in Philadelphia, before retiring in 1996, then coming back for three years with the Vikings and a year each in Dallas and Baltimore before retiring for good in 2001 at the age of 38.
During his NFL career, he recorded 29,979 passing yards as well as 4,928 yards on the ground. His rushing numbers are currently third all time among NFL quarterbacks. He also starred in college at UNLV, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Last year, Randall was able to combine his experience as a football player and pastor in becoming the chaplain for the Las Vegas Raiders. But despite everything he has going on in ministry, Randall also coaches his daughter.
When your coach happens to be your dad…@vashtizzle_ | @usatf | #TrackFieldTrials21
📺 NBCSN pic.twitter.com/LPKFJRRr3Y
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 21, 2021
He competed in the high jump for Santa Barbara High School, and now uses his experience as an elite athlete to incorporate the Gospel into sports. In 2016, Randall spoke about why so many athletes gravitate toward Christianity.
“Most of it is mental training,” Randall told CBS Sports. “Mental training is about the inner being, in my opinion, and [Vashti] trusts God. A lot of athletes are strong Christians, because when you exhaust yourself with believing in yourself, you have to believe in the Truth. You can’t rub a rabbit’s foot. The rabbit’s foot is not going to do anything for you. But when you pull on the true and living God, there’s power in that.”
With the help of her father as well as her faith in God, Vashti looks ahead to the Tokyo Olympics and aims to claim her first Olympic medal. The Tokyo Olympics run from July 23-August 8, but the women’s high jump event will have its qualifying round Aug. 5, and the final round Aug. 7.
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