The story of Marquise Goodwin
Some people you meet in life change you, inspire you, push you to do better.
I had travelled to Eugene expecting a happy time, and it was awesome, but what I wasn’t expecting was the ruthlessness and pain. Four years of training for one meet and just the top three athletes qualified per discipline, US Olympic Trials are cut-throat.
Marquise Goodwin, who recorded a World Lead earlier in the season had finished 7th jumping 8.25m, a distance that would have won him the European Championship title that same year. For that matter it would have won him a medal at the previous three Olympic Games.
I later heard that his performance had been hampered by a niggling injury sustained earlier that year in Birmingham, actually that was the first time our paths would cross.
Marquise is already an Olympian having competed at London 2012, he was around in the stands the next day to cheer on his wife and close friends who doubled-up in the triple jump. Selfless, no doubt gutted but still determined.
‘You stop accomplishments when you stop believing in yourself. When you stop wanting to. Don’t stop until you’re ready to,’ Marquise told me. ‘I’m not ready. I won’t stop.’
‘Training is going to be hard. It doesn’t get easier as the competition gets better.’
‘The mentality to have is relentless. Don’t let anybody bother you. People have told me I ain’t gonna make it my whole life.’
Hailing from a small town called Lubbock, nine hours from Dallas, Marquise had a very humble up-bringing from a single parent household.
‘I had to grow up really fast because I went from being a ten year-old kid to an eleven year-old man. I started working for a removal company so that I could have money to support my family. It was what I had to do.’
His parents had separated when he was eleven, and with three younger sisters, Marquise suddenly found himself the man of the house. As he told me his story you started to get a real picture of his upbringing and sense of steely determination I’ve experienced around a lot of elite stars. A commonality of meeting hardship, against the odds, and coming out the other side. It’s that story I wanted to tell.
In Birmingham, Marquise received treatment straight after the meet, but not before he had recorded a jump of 8.42. The no obstacle too great mentality is perhaps what gives these elite athletes an edge in competition, when they’re up against it they adapt and they thrive.
One of his sisters was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth — a muscular condition that limits your limbs.
‘She has never walked a day in her life. She can’t just to get up and look herself in the mirror when she wants to. It’s the little things like that I don’t take for granted.’
‘I’ve been in a lot of positions that people haven’t seen.’
‘A lot of people don’t take advantage of going to class each day, listening to your coaches, just being in a stable learning environment. That could all be gone at any time, at any given moment.’
Fast forward to 2001, Marquise moved to Dallas with his mum where he attended Rowlett High School. His life would take another turn…
‘Things really hit south,’ reflected Marquise. ‘My grandfather died. He was really the man of our family. He was the glue that held us all together.’
‘When he passed it was as if everybody suddenly lost a sense of purpose and what they were living for. Nobody knew what to do, I didn’t feel I had a chance to grow as a person in that environment. I began to see things differently.’
‘I made a crucial decision to move out of my mum’s house at just 14 years old. Suddenly I was living rough on the streets.’
‘Before that I was a young boy who was poor, but felt I had everything I needed, maybe not everything I wanted, but everything I needed.’
Marquise had left home to challenge himself, to pursue his ambitions and ultimately earn enough to be able to support his family.
‘It’s really crazy how much can happen in a year.’
‘I stayed on the streets for days at a time, outside. I didn’t have anyone to turn to.’
‘I see guys who give up at the halfway point of a season. Guys giving up on college because it got a little too hard. My journey makes me enjoy the highs a little more, not react to the lows as deep, stay grounded.’
Currently living on the streets at age 14, a couple of families reached out to Marquise and began to help support him through High School. His potential was recognised in track and field, and suddenly, he had gone from being homeless to competing for USA Junior National teams and representing the country overseas.
He defied the odds and made it to college signing a letter of intent to attend the University of Texas, Austin — the Longhorns — on a Track & Field scholarship.
‘Finally I was getting to change my life around. Going to college and getting out of the hood. I was getting a chance to see the world and experience it from my own perspective.’
‘I grew so much in that period and now found myself at a school nobody said I could be at. Teachers told me that I wouldn’t make at a college like Texas because academics were too hard. They thought I couldn’t process being in the environment with 3,000 students, all smarter than me.’
‘Meanwhile I’m just dealing with all these negative sources, persevering, pushing through.’
When you meet Marquise and hear his journey you begin to understand how his journey shaped his character. He has always been up against it and found a way to push on through. The obstacle is the way.
At 5'9" and around 160 pounds, Marquise was told he was too small for football. Nobody gave him a chance. In fact, he points to that as one of the reasons why he joined the Longhorns, as much as he had been a successful track athlete, he wanted to go there to prove people wrong by making the football team.
‘I didn’t lose focus, or let anyone put me off my game because it was all just words. I didn’t believe those words that they told me as it wasn’t true.’
‘I knew my struggle. I earned a football scholarship to Texas after three days during camp.’
Again the questions came ‘he made the team, but is he going to play Saturday’s? He did it with no pads on during camp but what about when another team come to tackle this guy. He ain’t gonna make it — that’s what they said.’
To the contrary the comments would add fuel to his fire. Whilst words can affect some people, Marquise did what he has always done, put his head down and pushed on through.
‘I scored my first touchdown in the biggest game, against our rival the University of Oklahoma, the Sooners. I was the only receiver to score during that game. I was told I wasn’t good enough to play at Texas, or be successful, but I did it.’
The years went by and his track career had taken off. Following on from two Junior World Championship gold medals in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Marquise earned a silver medal in the Shenzhen, China at the World University Games. In 2012 he would make the USA Olympic team travelling to London jumping 8.33m at trials. An incredible feat for a dual sport athlete, but the Olympic journey is for another tale.
By the time the NFL draft came around in his senior year, Goodwin was thrust into the spotlight when he was awarded MVP in the Longhorns last game of the season, their bowl game, scoring two touchdowns.
‘Agents started approaching me talking about the NFL. But nobody really wanted to mess with me as they didn’t think I was good enough.’
‘For a receiver at 5'9" they asked who I’d catch a ball on.’
But at the combines Marquise had other ideas. He recorded the fastest time averaging 4.27 (4.25 in the first, 4.20 in the second). At the time it was the second fastest ever.
On May 10, 2013 Marquise Goodwin signed a four-year contract with the Buffalo Bills having been the 78th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.
He caught his first career touchdown in Week 6 against the Cincinnati Bengals, a 40-yard pass from Thaddeus Lewis. Olympian Goodwin played 12 games in his rookie season of 2013 making 17 receptions for 283 receiving yards.
‘People have your life set-up for you.’
‘But I encourage people today to pursue their dreams. Don’t let anybody knock you off your game. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything.’
‘I’m going to supercede every expectation that they set-out for me.’
‘That’s what I’ve done my whole life.’