If you’re searching for an athlete that defies adversity with ease and grace, look no further.
Norfolk, Nebraska native, Taleah Williams, is a 23-year-old paralympic long jumper who was born without her lower left arm.
Williams is the epitome of what it means to be a Trackbarn Athlete. Taleah has a drive to support and better the track and field community while pushing herself to be a better athlete everyday.
Taleah began running track in first grade with her hometown's youth track club, where she quickly took a liking to the jumping events. As she got older, her love for track and field never waivered.
Taleah went on to run at Doane College before an official spoke to Taleah’s coach about competing in the Paralympics. At first thought, Taleah did not understand why she needed to compete against other disabled athletes if she was successful where she was at.
After a conversation with her mom, Priscilla Williams, she realized competing at the Paralympics would be an incredible opportunity. Taleah reached out to the USA Paralympics T&F team and the rest is history.
During her time as part of the USA Team, Taleah has competed at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016 and the Tokyo Games in 2020. She placed 5th in the long jump in Rio and 4th place in Tokyo.
Taleah never would have imagined herself as a paralympic athlete, but described it as one of the biggest blessings in her life.
Williams gained a world championship medal in the long jump in 2017 and 6th place in 2019. She stated that winning gold at Worlds was an indescribable experience.
“Unreal, an experience I will never forget. Accomplishing something that you have been training months/years for is truly almost an indescribable feeling. The atmosphere in London was incredible.”
A key aspect to successfully competing on a World stage is discovering the correct mindset that drives the athlete to dominate. Taleah focuses on having an aggressive and competitive mindset. She holds high standards for herself and her attitude can directly affect her competition. “I am always using positive self- talk before I go down the runway as well as a lot of mental imagery. When I can see and feel myself competing, it helps create more focus.”
With track and field being mainly an individual sport, coaches have a huge impact on the athlete’s performance. It is crucial for the coach to be a stable ally to the athlete, which is exactly what Steve Gordon, Taleah’s coach for five years now, attempts to do for Williams. Gordon has been coaching track and field for 25 years now, beginning as a graduate assistant immediately after his collegiate eligibility was done.
Steve described his coach/athlete relationship with Taleah like working with a younger friend everyday. “We meet. We talk a lot about life and experiences...lots of laughs, tough conversations and lots of respect between us, all while I’m showing her the ropes and teaching her how to do this specific task we have to accomplish.”
As the duo walks into meets as big as the World Championships, Gordon taps into his own experiences as an athlete at that level and attempts to connect with Taleah to feel what she’s feeling and prepare her mentally.
Gordon is confident her physical ability is right. Each year they have done an incredible job to ensure her body is ready to perform. In preparation for big meets, they walk through every detail and talk about what to expect.
Steve ensures that Taleah understands that he is there with her every step of the way. “As a coach, that is the right mindset; I’m not in control, no. I’m a willing and dutiful servant to her cause.”
Taleah is grateful for her excellent relationship with Gordon and could not ask for a better coach. The duo stumbled upon each other by pure luck, stated by Williams. Taleah was in the middle of transferring colleges and was working out by herself, without a coach. She just so happened to be working out at the track the Steve coached at and their partnership went up from there. “My favorite thing about having Steve as my coach is how personal/individual he is with all of his athletes. He understands there is more than one way to go about things and he will find the best way that works for you.”
Taleah and Steve have high hopes for her future. As of now, their plan is for Taleah to continue training until 2028, in hopes of making it to the Paralympics Games in Los Angeles. Taleah looks forward to the possibility of getting to compete at a games in her home country where her family and friends could attend.
As for Gordon, his hopes for Taleah’s future includes joy. “I want her to chase what makes her happy in the most holistic way possible- now and after she’s done with her world-class career. I want her to receive those rewards on podiums, records that last for a good long while, and leave a legacy of being the best to ever do it. And if training and competition isn’t joyful for her anymore, I want to support her in whatever she chooses to do next.”
Track and field is a sport for the mentally tough, for athletes full of integrity and an inner drive to push your body to its limits. Steve’s advice for younger athletes who want to pursue a career in track and field is to go into it willingly. He stated, “It’s too tough of a sport to do for anyone else's reasons. Be willing to work and hold yourself accountable for the effort. Forget perfection, forget grandiose goals in the beginning and just show up sincerely and willingly. Everything good comes from that point.”