Olympian Tara Davis and Paralympian Hunter Woodhall prepare for 2021 Tokyo Olympics
Tara Davis and Hunter Woodhall’s love for each other is undeniable. The athletic couple have been together since high school, and this summer their relationship will face the ultimate test: competing in the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. If you ask them the question point blank, they couldn’t be more up to the challenge.
In the past year and a half of uncertainty, University of Texas long jumper Davis, 20, and Woodhall, 22, a two-time Paralympic medalist, have had their inextricable bond to keep them on the ground as ‘they were each training to qualify for a coveted spot on the world’s biggest athletics stage.
For Woodhall, the odds were roughly against him from birth. He was born with fibular hemimelia, a congenital disability that prevented him from walking, let alone running, and both his legs were amputated when he was just under a year old. Once he was given prosthetic legs, he grew to enjoy sports, especially athletics. Woodhall continued to defy expectations when he received a track and field scholarship to the University of Arkansas and later became a two-time Paralympic medalist, eventually switching to carbon fiber blades for racing.
Davis and Woodhall first met four years ago at a track meet in Pocatello, Idaho. Davis remembers the first time she laid eyes on Woodhall: “When I first saw him I was like, ‘Oh my god! This boy is fine! ‘ I had to find out who he was. For her part, Woodhall said: “My first impression of her is that she was gorgeous. She walked up to me and gave me a hug. No questions… I was like, ‘Wow, this girl is daring, she knows what she wants. ‘ ”
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Davis and Woodhall’s love affair hasn’t always been easy. Living more than 500 miles from each other – her in Texas, him in Arkansas – has its struggles, but their commitment to putting their relationship first ensures that it works. The couple announced that Davis will soon be bringing their southern charm to Fayetteville, Ark. to live with Woodhall in their new home.
“We balance our long distance relationship by having communication, trust and patience,” said Woodhall. “Over the past four years, we have learned to communicate and function as a couple. We’ve had countless situations where we got it wrong on both sides, but we’ve learned from these lessons and really want to grow our relationship. Davis added, “We’re trying to see the other side of an argument. We try not to tell ourselves how we should feel.
While the world was locked up, Davis and Woodhall spent six months locked up together. Even though they both contracted COVID-19 and had to quarantine for two weeks separately, Woodhall said “it was the best six months” of his life. “We had no responsibility, no one called us and no one asked us to do anything. We just have to enjoy life.
With Davis gaining ground to break multiple college records in the long jump and the inspiring story of Woodhall, the couple have gained considerable social media influence with over 470,000 Instagram followers and nearly 275,000 YouTube subscribers. (and more). Even though social media couples can seem inauthentic at times, Davis and Woodhall are the real deal.
ELLE.com brought the couple together to discuss how they prepare for the summer games, balancing a long-distance relationship, and what they love most about each other.
How was training for the Olympics and Paralympics last year, of all years?
Hunter Woodhall: Training this year has been different for me because I recently turned pro at the start of the year. There have been a lot of changes, but it was exciting to have a clear goal. All of the training last year led to the Olympics and then the games were postponed. Now that the games are on, it’s refreshing to have a solid goal.
Tara Davis: My training was a little different because I was training for college competitions. I had to focus on the National Indoor Championships, Conference Championships and National Outdoor Championships. After the National Outdoor Championships I had two weeks to train for the Olympic Trials. During training I had to clean up more technical stuff and imagined myself jumping the distance to be part of the team.
Were you surprised at all when you qualified?
Woodhall: I entered the trials very confident that I was going to make the team. When I qualified I called [Davis]; I was really excited. It was like a weight lifted from my shoulders. The first thing I said to [Davis] was, “It’s one in two, so we’re halfway there.” The work was not done because we needed [Davis] to qualify. But, when she qualified, I was very moved. I cried. It was a really special moment for sure.
Davis: I was so excited when I qualified! It has always been my dream to be part of the Olympic team and finally to reach my number one goal of jumping seven meters. It was just like [Woodhall] said, “a weight has come off my shoulders.” Yes, the nationals were huge. Yes, breaking the collegiate long jump record was huge. But it’s much more important to be part of the Olympic team. It was surreal. All the emotions that I have been through over the past two years have gone all over the track.
Given that COVID-19 cases are currently on the rise in Japan, what security protocols do you follow to compete?
Davis: Due to COVID, there will be no spectators at the matches. I am a big fan of crowds, I love working with crowds. But I’ll keep my head focused. We have a lot of protocols before we leave the country and while we are at the games. We need to download apps to our phones so they can track us to see if we’ve come in contact with someone who tested positive. USA Village used to be fairly open, but now it’s separate based on sport. Athletics will have our own cafeteria, track and living space. I will be supporting Hunter by making sure he doesn’t come into close contact with someone who has COVID so he can compete.
Woodhall: I will be followed by the Olympics and Tara Davis. [Laughs.] There is a rule that we can’t kiss or greet competitors, which is weird, but I understand. I’m really grateful that the games are still playing.
How did you support each other during this exciting but stressful time?
Woodhall: Tara’s support means the world to me. I don’t think I could do it without her, and I don’t think I would. We’ve both been through a lot, especially in our track careers. It’s easier to get through things when we do them together.
Davis: Hunter’s words mean it all. He saved my life. Besides my parents and close family members, Hunter is my rock, my best friend, and everything comes together in one human being. He is tiny on this earth and has had a huge impact in my world.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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