I always knew you loved me. Every person I ever met who knew you told me you talked about my brother and me all the time. Whether it was a neighbor, a family member, or someone random you met in the store, you would constantly beam with pride about our achievements. At first, you would tell people that one day, I would be an NFL player. But after I told you I wanted to be an Olympian, you loved telling people how I was a rising star as a discus thrower for U.S. track and field. You constantly would insist that I was special.
Even so, for much of my life, you were absent. There were times we went three or four months without talking. For years, I heard about your athletic talent. And I always wanted to be better than you – to beat you. The last time I saw you, we had a serious conversation about the hurt and pain I felt from you not being around. The conversation didn’t end well, as we both left angry and upset. Deep down, I always hoped one day we would figure it out and become the best of friends. But we never got that chance.
On May 16, 2019, I woke up to twenty missed calls from your side of the family. I called my auntie – your sister – and she told me you passed away.
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You had Multiple Myeloma, a blood cancer, but I didn’t even know you were sick. You never told me.
As soon as I lost you, I decided to forgive you. After you passed, I wrote you a letter and told you I was letting go of all the hurt and the anger. Finally, we would have the relationship I always wanted. Now, instead of beating you, I am trying to create a legacy for both of us.
Dad, we share the same name, Reginald Jagers. And I am motivated to make sure I represent your name – our name – well.
Like you, early on in my life, I lived in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio. I remember my brother and I would play on the corner, and out of nowhere, we’d hear screeching tires. Two cars would appear – one chasing the other. It was a drive-by. We’d quickly get down. Then, there was one time my brother and I were chased by a crackhead. My grandmother came out and scared him off with a gun. My mother wanted something different for us. So, before high school, she moved us to a predominantly white suburb of Cleveland, which was safer and had an excellent school district.
While there were no more drive-bys or crack addicts chasing us around, the suburbs had their own challenges as I began to experience overt and passive racism. Getting pulled over 4-5 times a month, it felt like the police existed to protect white residents from me. In school and sports, I felt like I was overlooked or undervalued. Some people liked me until I proved to be better than them. I remember plays where I beat a teammate on the football field and in response, they called me an “N-word.”
I started to throw discus partly because I liked the fact that it was an individual sport, where if I threw the best, I would win. No one could deny me that.
But discus, historically, has been a mostly white event. However, I didn’t let that scare me away. I went to college and became a five-time All-American. In 2018, I rose to number one 1 in the U.S. and reached as high as fifth in the world.
Dad, now our name represents a fearless trailblazer.
Although, many people thought my “trail” reached a dead-end 16 months ago.
In February 2020, I was stronger and faster than I had ever been. But then, I got blindsided by an injury. I was in training camp in Jamaica, where I was benching 455lbs for five sets of three. I was on my third set when I felt like I was getting stabbed in the chest. The weight then fell onto me. Immediately, I flew back to the states, and I got an MRI which confirmed that I tore my pectoral muscle. Three days later, I underwent surgery.
It was a potentially career-ending injury. So, many people started to doubt me. But I didn’t doubt myself. I heard God’s voice. He told me everything would be OK.
Ultimately, our season got canceled and all the events got postponed due to the pandemic. Even though I got a little more time to recover, my work ethic and attitude didn’t waver. If anything, I doubled down. I became more motivated than ever to train, work, and get back to being among the best in the world.
Dad, our name represents a warrior.
On June 25, I competed in the finals of the Olympic trials. I had not slept in three days, and I didn’t feel well. The cameras kept focusing on me as I went into the competition ranked number 1 in the U.S. That whole meet, I was in survival mode. I had to fight. Not to mention, it was sweltering hot, which only made me feel worse. In the last round, I knew I had to throw 62.19m to make the Olympic team, which I have thrown thousands of times. I knew I could do it, but I felt horrible. Dad, I prayed to you.
I said. “Please come and be my guardian angel. Please help me to lock in and focus,”
Dad, I kept thinking about you watching over me. I knew my mother was cheering me on in the stands, but I also knew you were cheering me on in heaven.
When I went out there, I was calm and confident as I threw as hard as I could. I threw 62.61m. That was good enough for second place and a spot on the Olympic team. At that moment, I felt so many emotions, including happiness and relief. Also, I was proud of myself for taking control of the moment and accomplishing my goal.
Dad, our name now represents an Olympian.
When I compete in Tokyo, I know you’ll be looking down on me. And I hope you realize that while I am proud that our name represents being a trailblazer, warrior, Olympian, and hopefully, soon, a gold medalist, what motivates me is that I am most proud that my name represents you.
I always knew you loved me, but now being great in life is my way of saying, Dad, I love you too.
Keep watching over me. I need you.