Illinois

High Jumper Darryl Sullivan Bringing 2 Good Luck Charms From Olympic Trials to Tokyo

While he'll probably be sporting Team USA gear on the track, the Illinois native will also have with him not one, but two very special good luck charms

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Fans of Olympic high jumper Darryl Sullivan will surely be watching to see just how high the Illinois native can go in Tokyo, but there's something else you might want to watch for.

While he'll probably be sporting Team USA gear on the track, Sullivan will also have with him not one, but two very special good luck charms.

First, is a T-shirt made for him by his father.

"Your highness," it reads.

The shirt was made by Sullivan's dad prior to the Olympic trials, and it meant so much to him that Sullivan carried it with him throughout the intense competition - where he ultimately tied his career best.

"It meant a lot because, you know, we talk all the time, but usually it's not more on a personal level, it's more on just catching up and for him to let me know that he's there with me and there for me, which I always knew, but to hear it is a completely different thing and that meant a lot to me," Sullivan said.

Could that support be what lifted him to Olympic heights?

"I had the shirt with me in the qualifiers, in the finals and I was able to, you know, look at it the night before finals just to really look over it and remember the shirt because I knew it was a big deal that I had it with me," Sullivan said. "And he really wanted me to wear it but I wasn't able to, I had to wear Tennessee gear that day but I just wanted to make sure I kept him in my heart the whole day. I remember I was stepping up to jump to the line and so until my bars I really thought about him."

While it would seem "Your Highness" may relate to Sullivan's high jumping talents, in reality, it has a completely different meaning.

"That's a nickname he gave me growing up because whenever I needed something or asked for something, I usually got it," Sullivan said. "You know, anything that I needed for school or any necessity for track, whether it was track spikes or money to go on a trip, when I asked he would provide it for me - and my mom as well. So 'til this day he still calls me 'your highness' when I ask for a favor of any sort."

But that didn't mean Sullivan didn't have to work for what he wanted.

"Growing up, my parents really taught me about, you know, if it was something that was needed [my dad] had me out there working hard, and you know, whatever I wanted I had to work for hours, you know, out there doing yard work, clearing weeds around the fence, cutting grass," Sullivan said. "And even though I didn't want to do it, it was something that I had to be really meticulous about because if I didn't do it correctly I had to be back out there doing it again the next day or the next weekend. So I mean, pretty much growing up sports was always something that was on my mind but I feel like through what he had me doing on a daily basis with my chores, my mom too, I was able to, you know, form a certain kind of work ethic so when I really wanted to do something it was over with, it was something that I was going to do like my life depended on it."

And that mentality has kept Sullivan going through what was no ordinary path to Olympian status.

Starting off as a basketball player, with a deep love of dunking and an admiration for LeBron James, Sullivan didn't realize his high jumping potential until he was in high school.

"My senior year in high school, that's when everything changed for me," he said.

That's when he jumped high enough to get the attention of several colleges. And coming off of a rough college start, his Olympic dreams started to come into focus during his senior year.

Enter, the Olympic trials, where Sullivan did something unusual.

Sullivan decided to wear a tribute wristband for a friend who passed away in a car accident in 2018 in Indiana, Aaron Porter Jr.

In a way, Sullivan carries the memory of his friend with him everywhere thanks to a tattoo on his arm that reads "Strive for Greatness AP3."

But the wristband was a gift from Porter Jr.'s family.

"Run your race, AP3," it reads.

"He was a big part of, I feel like, my drive these past couple years since he passed away - passed few years, that is," Sullivan said. "We both ran track going out together, originally started playing football and we had a lot of the same goals going through high school so we, you know, immediately we just kind of clicked."

Sullivan said Porter Jr. was a "brother to me," but he hadn't actually worn the wristband during a competition until the Olympic trials.

"Kind of something that was different that I never do," Sullivan said.

Getty Images
EUGENE, OREGON - JUNE 27: Darryl Sullivan competes in the Men's High Jump final during day ten of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 27, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

And it worked.

Sullivan equaled his lifetime-best with a clearance of 2.33 meters and took second place at the trials. The University of Tennessee graduate became the first track and field athlete in the history of Tennessee to qualify for the Olympics in the high jump.

He became an Olympian.

"To be able to make that a reality is almost unreal," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he plans to bring both the shirt and the wristband to Tokyo as his biggest supporters watch from above and abroad.

"Just knowing that they're all supporting me is something that, you know, is going to keep me driving," he said, acknowledging that due to COVID restrictions his family won't be able to travel with him.

And that drive is something Sullivan hopes will lead him to a medal - and a new personal best.

"I think that I will need to jump higher to medal at the Olympics," Sullivan said.

And that's exactly what he plans to do.

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