When JaMeesia Ford was just seven years old, she was already outrunning the boys her age and older.
“We were at a cookout and at one point all the kids started racing,'' said JaMessia's father, Walter Ford. “So she went out there wearing flip flops racing against the guys, and beat them. I said, 'Wow! We need to put her in some track program.' ''
The Fords did just that, signing JaMessia up for the Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department's winter training program for track and field. From there, JeMessia advanced to competition with the Fayetteville Flyers Track Club, where she's now become a national champion.
Ford captured gold medals in the the 200- and 400-meter dashes in the girls' 11-12 age division last month at the 51st USA Track and Field Hershey National Junior Olympic Championships held in Lawrence, Kansas.
The event was conducted from July 24-31 at the University of Kansas track. After advancing through preliminaries races, Ford edged out Shawnti Jackson in the 200-meter final on July 29 with a time of 25.30 seconds. Jackson, the daughter of four-time world champion and Olympic medalist Bershawn “Batman'' Jackson, finished in 25.32.
Ford would defeat another daughter of a famous athlete the following day in the 400-meter finals. Her winning time of 57.15 bested runner-up Sydney Harris and third-place Cha'iel Johnson, whose father Chad “Ochocinco'' Johnson is a former All-Pro NFL receiver.
“The 200 meter race was very close,'' said Ford, who is a seventh grader at John Griffin Middle School. “I came out as fast as I could and Shawnti was right there with me, but I was able to get to the line first. It felt awesome.''
Ford, too, hails from an athletic family. Her father, Walter, is a U.S. Army veteran who was a high school football star at traditional Virginia powerhouse Hampton High. He earned a scholarship to play at Virginia Tech and later spent several seasons with Fayetteville's professional arena football team.
Michael Gibson is director of the Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department. Gibson also helps coach the Fayetteville Flyers and has been working with JaMessia Ford since the beginning.
A change in the schedule of events at the championships proved a benefit to Ford, according to Gibson.
“She's been running at the national championships since she was nine,'' Gibson said. “But she had been coming in second because she tries to do one of the toughest doubles. In the past, the schedule never helped her. She might have to run races on the same day.
“But this year they changed the schedule where the 200 and 400 (finals) were not on the same day. It gave her time to rest.''
Now, with a pair of national championships to her credit, Ford is setting her sights on another major goal for the future.
“I want to make the Olympics,'' she said. “That's my goal.''
JaMessia may not be alone in that quest. Younger sister, JaNiyah, is also emerging as a force in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs. She placed fourth at the nationals in the 800 (2:33.59) in the 9-10 age division, then earned a third-place finish in the 1,500 (5:10:55).
Staff writer Sammy Batten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3534.