From humble beginnings living paycheck to paycheck, landing a job at McDonald’s aged 17 making $100 every two weeks and thinking it was the best job ever, yet daring to hold on, believe and speak her dreams into existence, Quanesha Burks is proof determination and self belief conquers all.
The now full-time professional long jumper after making the Olympic team, decided to treat herself by ordering medium fries with sour sauce at McDonald’s.
“I just ate it with so much gratitude in my mouth,” Burks says.
“When I worked at McDonald’s, I thought it was the best job ever,” Burks says. “I was making $100 every two weeks. It’s terrible, but I came to work every day happy and I knew it was all part of my goal to go to college.”
It all began at Hartselle High School, when Burks found most of her classmates were using sports as a way to get college scholarships. Encouraged by her friend to try out the sprints and jumps and placing third at the 2012 USATF National Junior Olympics, she decided to stick with it.
“I remember looking up the requirements to earn a full scholarship and I wrote those goals down,” Burks says. “I jumped 20 feet and that’s when everything changed.”
Doing practice before heading for McDonald’s at 4 p.m. and working until 10 p.m and during the weekends, she worked the early-morning shifts Burks was just earning enough to get by and dedicated her earnings to helping her grandmother pay off her car insurance.
The willingness to keep supporting her family nearly cost her the scholarships she was hoping for when out of the blues one day Mississippi State coach Steve Dudley showed up but couldn’t find Burks at home for an at-home recruiting visit, so he went into the McDonald’s and waited until her break to talk with her. Alabama coach Miguel Pate called her multiple times while she was working the drive-thru, and she’d keep any recruiting calls brief and promise to call back coaches whenever she was free.
“Coach Pate actually had to sit me down with my high school coach, Kenny Lopez, and guidance counselor so I could understand how my life was going to change and I wouldn’t need to work at McDonald’s,” Burks says.
Burks held on even with her job until she graduated high school with her 11 state titles, including the 100 meters, long jump and triple jump sweep as a senior. At Alabama, she became the first in her family to attend college and went on to have a successful career by setting school records, earning All-America honors and winning the 2015 NCAA outdoor and 2016 NCAA indoor long jump titles. (The accolades section of her bio on RollTide.com has 27 bullet points.) She then launched her full-time job would be as a professional jumper, Sports Illustrated reports.
In 2018 she finished fourth at the World Athletic Indoor Championships and missed the podium by 0.04 meters (1.5 inches) on Feb. 15, 2020, she won the U.S. indoor title, but the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, were canceled and with the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor competition were off. Like most professional track athletes, she continued training until a bone bruise in her femur this past February, sidelining her for 11 weeks without any running or jumping.
While her competition was notching the Olympic standard and earning points in the World Athletics’ ranking system, Burks watched idly and took to TikTok to verbally manifest that she was going to make the Olympic team.
“It felt like all the odds were against me,” Burks says. “At one point, my coach told me, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to physically be able to go to the trials. The doctors didn’t know if I would be back in time. I was seeing some specialists and they didn’t have much hope in me at all. I was facing so much, but I kept going back to when I worked at McDonald’s. I had my goals set and I knew I could do it.”
Although the bone bruise in her takeoff leg was still severe, she was trending in the right direction with a season-best 6.85 meters just three weeks before at a meet in Chula Vista, Calif. Burks entered the trials with a personal best of 6.93 meters, but she had not jumped that far since 2015. She entered the competition with the Olympic standard but only secured it in her final competition before the trials. Before that jump, she was ranked 11th in the U.S. in ’21, the site reports
“It’s been a journey and it all started with a little girl working at McDonald’s and here I am.”