Jakia Shannon gave up sprinting and long jumping after her freshman year.
But last Thursday, the Perquimans High junior had an Olympic track moment. A golden one at that.
That’s when LaShawn Merritt, a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Portsmouth, Va., made a surprise visit to her in school.
It was actually a double surprise for Shannon that started when Bobby Chadwick Jr., an Elizabeth City resident who is friends with Merritt and members of Shannon’s family, had Perquimans athletic director Mickey Drew call Shannon down to his office.
She was given no explanation why she was being summoned.
“When I got there they were pretending like I was in trouble, that I wasn’t going to graduate or something,” Shannon said. “I was really worried. But then they said the person who said I
did something bad was coming to the office right now and when he got here, we’d talk about it. They said to come with them.”
Shannon walked out into the hallway, saw Chadwick and immediately lit into him.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to get you, because you’re playing tricks on me,’” she said to the playful family friend.
Just then Merritt, the 400 champ at the 2008 Olympics and a member of the winning 4x400 relay in Beijing, appeared, decked out in his gold medals,
“I was like ... ‘Oh my God, it’s LaShawn Merritt,’ she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The visit was Chadwick’s way of making good on an earlier promise to Shannon.
“I had gone to DC with LaShawn at Thanksgiving to distribute turkeys at a Redskins function and brought back some autographed pictures for Takia’s little cousin,” Chadwick said.
“She was kinda fussin’ at me, saying ‘You didn’t get anything for me.’ I was feeling sorry about that and I told her not to worry, that I would take care of it.”
In the following weeks, Shannon became interested in Merritt and did a lot of research on him. She decided she wanted to meet Merritt and talk with him about his career.
It took some time — “LaShawn has a very, very busy schedule,” Chadwick said — but Merritt agreed to Chadwick’s suggestion that he surprise Shannon at school.
“LaShawn loves doing stuff like that,” he said. “He was more than happy to do it.”
Thursday morning Chadwick called the school to set things up. Drew did not hesitate to cooperate.
“What a great gesture from Mr. Merritt,” he said. “I believe athletics ideally teach discipline and commitment while challenging and building character for other things that surface in your life.
“Someone like (Merritt) who has accomplished so much certainly has the ability to inspire our students.”
After chatting with Shannon and signing a number of autographs — including a Perquimans baseball hat that will be auctioned at an upcoming baseball alumni steak dinner — Merritt told Shannon, “Go back to class and learn. It’s never too early to think about your future.”
After leaving the star-struck Shannon, the Olympic champ wasn’t done spreading his messages for the day.
“On the way back, we stopped in EC at a program called Youth Build and LaShawn talked with more kids,” Chadwick said.
Back in Hertford, Shannon may be heeding Merritt’s advice about schoolwork, but she said meeting him is not going to inspire her to rejoin the track team.
“No-o-o-o-o, it’s way too much hard work,” she exclaimed.