Like The Throwers She Coaches, Jasmine Burrell Is Hoping To Prove Herself In Santiago
by Steve Drumwright
Jasmine Burrell didn’t know everything she would encounter when she agreed to help coach at a recent training camp for seated throwers.
Scott Winkler, a two-time Paralympic shot putter, hosted the camp Oct. 12-14 at his farm in Augusta, Georgia. The camp and subsequent invitational meet — dubbed, fittingly, the Winkler Farm Invitational — featured participants of all ages and experience.
Burrell was at the camp primarily in her role as a U.S. coach helping athletes prepare for high-level competitions including next month’s Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile. However, one athlete who is a couple quads away from being old enough for that level of competition caught the hearts of everyone there.
In a chance encounter, Winkler had met a 6-year-old boy outside of a store while shopping with his family. The boy, who uses a wheelchair, was interested in attending the camp, so Winkler helped arrange a chair from which the boy could throw, and he used it to impress the athletes and coaches in attendance, including Burrell.
“He showed up to the meet, and that was his first time competing and he threw really pretty far for his first time,” Burrell said. “The excitement on his face to receive that medal, it was just a breathtaking moment … These are the moments that we live for, for the next generation to have those wow moments and compete for the first time.”
Burrell, 31, is the adaptive athletics coach for her alma mater, San Diego State, and she’s set to travel to Chile with Team USA to coach the Para throwers at the meet.
In Augusta, the group went through various warmup drills on the first day, including yoga, and then a throwing session where Burrell was able to analyze the throwers’ techniques and offer advice.
Day two saw the athletes participate in a mock meet, where Burrell had them warm up for two minutes, take six practice throws, then six competition throws.
“Everybody had big PRs that day,” Burrell said, “so we were really looking forward to the competition the next day.”
The meet, which included about 70 athletes from around the country, went well for Burrell’s group. Some hit lifetime bests, while others were close to their top marks.
“If anything, on paper for the ones that didn’t think that they did that well, they really made some really big adjustments at the camp that they can go forward with in their training,” she said. “So those big numbers will be coming. But for the most part, I think this was a huge success.”
For Burrell, it was the latest step for her in coaching Para athletes after a probing conversation with Ahkeel Whitehead, who is the head of San Diego State’s adaptive athletics program.
A couple years ago, Whitehead — a 2016 Paralympian who competed in the men’s 100 meters and long jump T37 — asked Burrell what she knew about adaptive sports. At the time, Burrell knew nothing about them. They continued to talk, and Burrell’s interest grew, but she wasn’t sure if it was something she wanted to take on. At the time, Burrell was coaching able-bodied athletes at San Diego State.
Burrell pondered the offer and eventually decided to accept, as it gave her a chance to help more athletes and develop different skills as a coach.
“It was another opportunity for me to reach younger kids who didn’t know opportunities like this existed, and it was just a really good fit for who I am as a person, what I believe in when it comes to seeing people do great things in their life,” Burrell said. “So I took him up on that opportunity and ended up really growing fast in the sport.”
Burrell sees the biggest challenge for Para athletes is not their skill, but the resources they have available. Very few tracks around the country can accommodate wheelchairs and seated throwers, much less the athletes having access to chairs suitable to practice and compete.
“A lot of that requires funding,” Burrell said. “The most challenging part is making sure that we have all the resources to continue to grow the sport as the younger athletes are getting involved.”
Like the athletes she coaches, Burrell is hoping what transpires at the Parapan Am Games shows what she can do to help the team and potentially earn her a spot on the staff for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.
“The more experience I get on a larger scale, the more athletes, the more it makes sense for me to travel to Paris,” Burrell said. “I might be a younger coach, however, I’m just as hungry and I’m just as excited about the sport and I bring a new, uplifting vibe to the coaching world that this generation needs because times are changing with how we talk with athletes, our patience with athletes, mental health, a lot of those things that take place.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to usparatf.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.