There isn’t a hurdle too high: Coach Jack Pierce’s journey from the Olympics to RV

Celebrating Black History Month by Honoring RV Track & Field Hurdle Coach and former American Olympic Athlete, Coach Jack Pierce

Jya Marshall, Assistant Sports Editor

The events of the summer of 2020 and the racial reckoning the country was forced to face have changed how we think about and examine race in every facet of American life. Celebrating this year’s Black History Month has arguably gained new meaning in terms of remembering and the past and looking towards the future. Throughout the month, we not only honor the great work, achievements and attributions to society by Black activists, but we also celebrate the advancement and accomplishments of all Black individuals, even within our own RV family. 

One such individual making a difference right here in our own community is RV Hurdle Coach Jack Pierce. In his second season, Pierce has proved to be both an asset and a role model to the hurdle program, and serves as a representation of success for all of athletes. 

“Coach Pierce has done a tremendous job in such a very short time,” Head Coach of the Girls Track Team, Eric Warren, said. “He has used his wealth of knowledge and experience in the sport to mold the hurdlers we have here at RV. Daniel ‘Spice’ Dayrell became the school record holder after working with him, and not far behind is Anabella Chin. She could not only be the best in school history, but one of the best we have seen in South Jersey, and maybe even state history. All that goes back to what he is able to do. We are beyond grateful to have him.”

When asked to explain how influential Coach Pierce has been and how he has helped him become successful, Dayrell said, “I can write a whole book.” Even though he is now an RV alumni, Dayrell reflects back on his RV hurdle days and said, “‘helped’ would be an understatement.

“But most definitely [Coach Pierce] helped me out a great deal,” he said. “Athletically speaking, he molded me into a top-tier hurdler within a couple of months. He taught me a lot of life lessons that I will remember for years and I am appreciative for the little time we had together, as it was cut short due to the pandemic.”

In her junior year, Chin has become one of the fastest hurdlers, and she attributes her success to Coach Pierce. “Although the practice is filled with blood, sweat and many tears, Coach Pierce’s training techniques, and workouts, what he thinks are ‘pieces of cake,’ have profoundly contributed to my success in track and field,” she said.  

Prior to his coaching career, Coach Pierce was more than familiar with the challenges, and the glories, of being a track athlete. Beginning his athletic career running track at Woodbury High School, Coach Pierce continued running at the next level, attending Morgan State University in Maryland on a track and field scholarship. 

While in college, his dreams of running professionally were heightened as he was inspired by Renaldo Nehemiah, a Black Hall of Fame track and field athlete. Nehemiah, according to Today in African American History, was the first athlete to run the 110-meter hurdles in under 13 seconds and held the world record from 1981 to 1989.” Coach Pierce’s spirit was ignited so much by Nehemiah, that he hired Nehemiah’s former coaches to train him as he “admired his hurdling form so much” and wanted to be just as, or even more, successful than Nehemiah. 

After countless hours of training, practices and doing “no less than 100 hurdles per day,” Pierce had finally accomplished the biggest dream of all athletes: competing professionally in the Olympics. Not only did he compete, but he was a bronze medalist in the Men’s 110 meter high hurdles after running 12.94 seconds at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics at 29 years old. Nehemiah’s world record was 12.93 seconds. 

Coach Pierce described his experience at the Olympics as something like never before. “There were over 80,000 people in the stadium, many waving American flags,” he said. “My adrenaline was through the roof, yet I was confident that I could perform well.” He was proud of himself as he “finally obtained my goal of competing in the Olympics” and earning a medal for the United States.

Following his competition in the Olympics, Coach Pierce also won two World Championships; placing second in Tokyo in 1991 and third in Stuttgart in 1993, both in the men’s 110-meter hurdles. 

Nevertheless, his success did not come without sacrifices. Besides the hurdles themselves, Coach Pierce found himself choosing between his occupation and his training.

“There was no financial support for track athletes at the time unless you were among the very best in the world in your event,” he said. “Therefore, I decided to leave my full-time job and dedicate my all to training.” Although walking away from his occupation was difficult, it paid off in the end, as he became an olympian and world champion. 

As only a handful of athletes are fortunate enough to earn and secure their spot at the Olympics, it remains a symbol of Pierce’s sacrifices, dedication and hard work in his event and sport. His name will not only be inscribed in track and field history for his Olympic accomplishments but additionally inscribed in the unfinished book of Black History for his contributions to paving the path for other young Black athletes. Although Black History contains over 400 years of suffering, trauma, racism and inequalities, it is individuals like Coach Pierce who continue to be an inspiration and example that one’s skin color is not a measurement of one’s ability and that there is no dream too far or no obstacle too high to hurdle.