Four words follow Tamari Davis from her hometown of Gainesville, Florida, to the world stage in Budapest: On your marks. Set.
In the time it takes to tie a shoelace, she sprints the length of an NFL football field — fast enough to take home gold in the 4×100-meter relay at the world championships in August. She joined teammates Gabrielle Thomas, Twanisha Terry and Sha’Carri Richardson in setting a championship record with a time of 41.03.
Davis, a native of east Gainesville, also qualified for the 100-meter final, where she placed ninth. Her mother, Tamara Davis, cheered her on from the stands of the 35,000-person stadium.
“To know my daughter from Gainesville, Florida, Alachua County is one of [the Team USA athletes], I just had this feeling of ‘she made it,’” Tamara Davis said. “We made it. The town made it.”
At 20 years old, Tamari Davis ranks 14th in the world for the Women’s 100 meters as of mid-September. Out of the event’s top 100 athletes, she’s the only one from north central Florida.
“My community is small,” Tamari Davis said. “Everyone knows each other — from little kids to big kids, to coaches.”
The athlete’s hometown roots run deep through the history of her track career, from racing with the Gainesville Striders Track Club in childhood to breaking national records at Gainesville High School before she went pro at 16.
Her first steps as a sprinter took place on the indoor track at the University of Florida when she was 6. That’s where she’d accompany her older brother to his track practices and would usually spend the afternoon playing in the sand pit.
Davis decided to give track a try after witnessing her brother’s growing collection of medals, the immediate rewards from the sport, her mother explained.
“And from that point, a star was born,” said track coach Gary Evans. Evans and his assistant coach Kaila Reddick have worked with Davis since she was 7.
“I was amazed,” Reddick said, recalling the first time she saw Davis run. He said he recalls telling her “‘At 6, 7 years old, you out here beating kids twice your age.’”
At 6, Davis joined the Amateur Athletics Union with the Gainesville Striders, the city’s longest-running youth track club, led by former Gainesville High School coach Larry Holsey.
Though Holsey noted Davis’ talent at the time, she wasn’t the first young athlete he’d seen break records, he said. His main concern for the kids in the club was whether they could maintain the discipline required on and off the field, he added.
Once Davis graduated from the 8-and-under division of the Amateur Athletics Union, Holsey said, she took off with the sport and never looked back.
By the time she graduated middle school, she held four Amateur Athletics Union National Junior Olympic title wins to her name.
“To see Tamari, the level that she’s gone to […] it really makes me feel wonderful to say we were a part of her life,” Holsey said.
Now, her story inspires other young athletes, he said. “From a kid’s standpoint, they look at it and say, ‘I want to be like her.’”
For Holsey, this athletic motivation is the key to a more important finish line: graduating with a degree.
As a former football player, Holsey said playing sports motivated him to pursue a college education. As a retired correctional officer lieutenant, he said he wants to keep kids from becoming a statistic, a number at the prison gate door.
“My goal is to get them productive in life,” Holsey said. “If some of them happen to be or do what Tamari did, so be it.”
By the time Davis was 11, she transitioned from the Gainesville Striders to the Empire Athletics track club, which is run by Evans.
Her mother’s conflicting work schedule meant Davis’ grandmother Shirline Able would pick the girl up from Lincoln Middle School, and later Gainesville High School, to take her to practice at Fred Cone Park.
Tamari Davis credited the park as being a binding force in her community: “We have one track, and everyone practices at that one track,” she said.
Fred Cone Park, which opened in 2012, stood as the only public track and field facility in Gainesville for over a decade until June.
“For us, this was our home,” Reddick said.
Davis kept practicing at Fred Cone after going pro. For the young athletes who now call Fred Cone Park their home, Davis’ continued connection to the community “shows she’s a real person,” not the unattainable superstar kids otherwise perceive, Reddick said.
“[They] don’t just see her on TV,” Reddick said, “[They] can literally come to this track and see her.”
Twelve-year-old sprinter Destiny Robinson met Davis at the park when the pro joined her for an Empire Athletics practice in 2021.
“She’s fast. I want to be just like her,” Destiny said, describing her first impression of Davis.
In July, Destiny became an American Athletics Union national club champion in the Girls 200 meters. On her bucket list of accomplishments – going to college and running as a professional athlete. She said she watches YouTube videos to keep up with Davis’ track progress and times.
“She inspires me,” Robinson said. “Since she’s from the same town as me, I feel more motivated to keep watching her.”
Four days after Davis took home gold at the world championships, Gainesville activist and community organizer Chanae Jackson shared the athlete’s accomplishments in a Facebook post, highlighting Davis’ local track connection and her potential to “shine a little light for Black folks in Gainesville!”
Jackson had kept up with her track career since Davis’ days sprinting in high school. Explaining what motivated her to make the post, Jackson pointed to a lack of local media coverage of Davis.
Still, Davis and her family’s resilience, tenacity and humility haven’t wavered, Jackson said.
“She does this because she believes in this, and they support her because they believe in her,” Jackson said. “I think that’s a story worth telling because that is a normal story for us (Black people) in our community, but it’s a story that’s typically not told.”
“She has the support of a village,” Jackson added.
Stressing the significance of hometown support, Tamara Davis said she’s very thankful for the uplifting reactions reverberating through the community.
This celebration is a gratifying reinforcement of something she’s long seen in her daughter: “Now, others are really realizing she truly is a jewel to Gainesville — but she didn’t move here from somewhere else. She was born right here.”
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