The short track speed skater slipped during U.S. trials and narrowly missed a spot on the Olympic team, but is able to compete thanks to Brittany Bowe initially giving up her spot in the 500m race.
Erin Jackson can't be slowed down.
The speed skater is currently in Beijing, ready to race her way to the podium this Winter Olympics. Though she almost missed her chance — Jackson made headlines earlier this year when a slip kept her from qualifying for Team USA in the women's 500m event, which she was expected to lead. Her teammate Brittany Bowe, who had already qualified in other races, bowed out to give Jackson, 29, her spot for the Games.
"After my stumble at Olympic Trials, I was unsure if I'd be able to take a shot at the big gold medal this year," Jackson tells PEOPLE during an interview about her partnership with superdrink Cheribundi. "When Brittany declined her 500m spot (bumping me from my third-place finish into a qualifying position), it was hard to put into words what I felt."
She adds, "I was extremely grateful and humbled and happy. Brittany is an amazingly selfless person and I'm honored to call her a friend."
The teammates both hail from Ocala, Florida, and have known each other for years — long before Jackson even began speed skating in 2016.
The now-two-time Olympic athlete chats with PEOPLE about her friendship with Bowe, what her goals are for Beijing, and why she turns to Cheribundi.
PEOPLE: Take us back to the beginning — were you always an athletic kid?
JACKSON: I was definitely more of a bookworm than an athlete as a kid. I played a few random sports in elementary and middle school and joined the track team for two seasons in high school. I've also been a skater for as long as I can remember. Skating became more than just a fun after-school activity for me when I was about 11 years old.
PEOPLE: When was the first time you tried speed skating? At what point did you realize, oh wow, I'm good at this?
JACKSON: I first put on ice speed skates at the end of 2016. I had attended an open skating session with a friend in the Netherlands. The following year, I went to Salt Lake City to try out the long track speed skating program there.
Today I would still say 'I'm getting better at this,' rather than 'I'm good at this.' It's such a complex sport and I have so much to learn. However, a big turning point was in 2018 when I surprised myself and everyone else by qualifying for my first Olympic team. Another notable point was winning half of the 500m World Cup races this season.
PEOPLE: You and Bowe have known each other for years. Can you talk about your relationship, on and off the ice?
JACKSON: Brittany and I are both from Ocala. We grew up on the same inline speed skating team there, coached by Renee Hildebrand. At that point, I was 10 years old and looked up to Brittany. After I transitioned to the ice — as she had done several years prior — it became more of a friendship instead of the previous 'little kid looking up to big kid' relationship. She's an amazing friend, teammate, and mentor who is always willing to help me both on and off the ice.
PEOPLE: Now, Bowe is able to also compete in the 500m after spots were reallocated. Does having her also compete motivate you more?
JACKSON: I was ecstatic to hear that we had earned a third starting place in the 500m. All three of our short-distance ladies have had a great World Cup season and it would have been unfortunate for any one of us to sit out. I'm glad Brittany's good deed came back around to her so quickly and I hope it continues on to a great performance in the 500m and her two other events.
PEOPLE: What does training look like for you?
JACKSON: Most of our training sessions are on the ice, but we also have strength and conditioning workouts, dry land, aka skating simulations on foot, and cardio. After every workout, I make sure to refuel properly. An easy way to do so is by grabbing a bottle of Cheribundi or mixing it into my post-workout smoothie.
Cheribundi's tart cherries are scientifically proven to reduce muscle soreness, support immunity, reduce inflammation, and provide better sleep — four things that are very important as I am training. I also love that I can easily throw Cheribundi juices or concentrates in my bag when I am on the go.
PEOPLE: What do you like best about Cheribundi?
JACKSON: The taste! Of course, the scientifically-backed benefits for recovery reduced inflammation, and better sleep, don't hurt, either.
PEOPLE: In addition to the physical aspects, how do you incorporate mindfulness into your training and prioritize your mental health?
JACKSON: I prioritize my mental health through stress management. I try to stay organized and responsible with my schedule to avoid unnecessary stressors.
PEOPLE: Representing the U.S. at an Olympics — what does that mean to you?
JACKSON: It's an honor to represent the U.S. at the Olympics. Team USA is like a big family and it feels great to cheer each other on as we all go for gold.
Article by Lindsay Kimble for People.