This article was originally published on Kentucky Monthly.
Whether she’s playing PlayStation 3 with Usain Bolt in Jamaica, high-fiving Tyson Gay on his way to practice, or perming the hair of US athletes, Sharrieffa Barksdale is making the most of her time as event manager for the United States Track and Field team during the London Olympics. “Track has been my passion, and it will always be my passion,” she said, sporting her trademark sunglasses and navy Team USA apparel. A high school-standout and 1984 Olympic hurdler, Barksdale’s passion for her sport hasn’t dwindled.
Now that she’s 51 and her hurdling days are over, Barksdale has transitioned into a new phase of her running life: management. “I want to be that rock for Team USA Track and Field athletes,” she said. “If they need anything, they can come and ask me, and I will make sure they get it.” A Lexington resident for 18 years, Barksdale’s Kentucky hospitality and love for her athletes has garnered her the title “Team Mom.”
Barksdale is a mother in real life, too. Her daughter just signed a scholarship with St. Augustine University and her son will be attending Henry Clay High School this fall. She works for Goodwill Industries and also trains Lexington track and field athletes as a personal trainer. Her schedule at home is flexible enough that she can take off work for US Track and Field events. But she still trains her athletes back home when she’s on the road.
Since 2006, Barksdale has served as event manager for Team USA Track and Field, but she has coached numerous junior teams and has worked in other capacities for Team USA. Her job has taken her around the world. While in Jamaica for a Track and Field event, Barksdale got to hang out with track phenom Usain Bolt. The two bonded over video games.
No matter what her title has been, her focus has always been on the wellbeing of her athletes. “I do a lot of different things for the athletes to make sure that they are being taken care of,” she said. For Barksdale, the possibilities are endless: perming and braiding hair, hosting talent shows, making sure equipment doesn’t get left behind when leaving the Olympic Village, and keeping the atmosphere lighthearted for the athletes before the Olympic Games. Whether with a hug or a high-five, she boosts morale and makes the athletes feel at home. For USA Track and Field, “Team Mom” is just the beginning. “We’re like a family,” Barksdale said. “It is so great to see the camaraderie they have together.”
As she wrapped up the interview outside Olympic Village, Barksdale high-fived track star Tyson Gay on his way to practice. For Barksdale, the hugs, perms, and talent shows are just as important as the golds, silvers, and bronzes. No matter who wins at the events, one thing is certain: she’ll be one proud mom.