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Long jumper Brittney Reese hopes to win more than just gold

As Rio nears, the three-time Olympian wants to win gold while inspiring kids around the country

Long jumper Brittney Reese thought long and hard about what she wants to accomplish in the coming months.

Besides preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics, which begin Friday, Reese has been formulating ideas of how to use her platform as an athlete to not only speak about social injustices, but also help her community in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Athletes have become more vocal after a rash of violent incidents across the country ended with the deaths of African-American men and police officers in recent weeks. Reese is proud that athletes are active in the pursuit for change, but also realizes how much more she’d like to contribute to society as well.

“It’s frustrating to see how it’s all going about and how all these murders are happening and nobody is getting convicted for them,” Reese said. “They’re treating us like second-class citizens, which isn’t fair and which isn’t right. I feel like athletes and rappers and other people, we should all use our voices because at this time, people are looking up to us. It’s real important for us to get out there and walk with the community.”

As Reese, 29, voices her concerns about police brutality, she also realizes that troubled communities, especially children within these communities, are in need of assistance and healing as well.

Reese’s passion for helping children is one of the reasons that she plans to use sports as a vehicle to get involved with the youths. Besides to a speed and agility camp she’ll be holding in September, Reese hopes to begin a track camp in her Mississippi community, where outlets for children are limited.

After a recent trip home, Reese noticed how much her neighborhood had changed from when she was growing up. She fears that lack of positivity and programs in the area contribute to reasons that children are now turning to life on the streets for acceptance. Reese plans to make frequent trips back to Mississippi and find organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club that will aid in her quest to provide children with more creative outlets and mentors.

“A lot of kids in our community are killing each other, so that pushes me to try to step out a little more than I have been,” Reese said. “I’m trying to find ways we can get programs back into these schools so these kids can have some guidance. Right now, the streets are where the kids are going. It’s quick money, but they don’t understand that going that route, there are only two places it can lead you: dead or in jail. If we can catch the kids early and set them on the right path, it would be a really good thing for our community.”

It was with the help of her community and family, particularly her grandfather, which led the three-time Olympian to the successful athletic career she has today.

With dreams of becoming a basketball star, Reese joined the track team in seventh grade to help with her skills and speed, and quickly developed a fondness for the sport. She stuck with track and field throughout her high school years, and continued in college after transferring to the University of Mississippi. Since then, Reese has established herself as a three-time world outdoor gold medalist, and also scored Olympic gold in 2012.

This year, Reese has learned how to channel her energy and not succumb to the pressures that she has previously felt in past Olympic Games. With the help of her mental coach, whom she’s been working with for nine months, Reese is on track to achieve what she and her coach dubbed the “three in one” — winning the Olympics, breaking the American record and breaking the world record.

Reese also wants to show kids around the country, specifically in her community, how far a career in track and field can take them.

“I think a lot of kids want to run track, but once they run track they’re not getting seen,” Reese said. “When I was growing up, I had track coaches but the opportunities I had, I didn’t know about as far as being able to make a [USA Track & Field] Junior Olympics team or junior worlds team. I think the kids in my community love to run track, but don’t have anything to look forward to. With basketball, you have NBA. Football, you have NFL. Those are where the big money is, but I want these kids to understand all those skills revolve around track.”

Most importantly, Reese hopes to inspire kids by showing them they can become anything they want to be despite the challenging circumstances that may surround them.

“For me, I was raised in Mississippi and we all know how that is, but I never had anybody tell me I couldn’t do something,” Reese said. “If you told me I couldn’t do it, I’ll go do it anyway. Anything is possible, just reach for the stars.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.