Randall Cunningham holds his son Christian, during halftime of an NFL football game, in Philadelphia during the 2009 season
By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Father’s Day is always special for former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham and his family.
This one just might be a little more special than usual.
Cunningham, the two-time NFL Player of the Year, is training both his son, Randall Jr. and his daughter, Vashti, for the Olympic trials which begin July 1st for women and July 2nd, for men, in Eugene, Oregon.
Randall Jr., a sophomore at the University of Southern California and Vashti, a senior at Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School, are two of the best high jumpers in the country.
There is a chance they could be a part of this year’s Summer Olympics, but first come the trials.
“That’s what we’re training for,’’ the elder Cunningham said. “It’s great that I’ll be training both of them. It’s just a tremendous feeling being able to work with your children and be able to help them at something they are so good at anyway.’’
Randall works with Vashti year round and began to train his son when he returned home from college earlier this month.
“I’m the same with Vashti as I am with Randall. I don’t treat them any differently,’’ Cunningham, who also trains other high jumpers from around the country, said.
Randall Jr. cleared 7-foot-3 when he was in high school, the best high school jump in the nation.
Vashti, who is only18, is one of just four American women to have cleared the Olympic qualifying height of 6-foot-4. She cleared 6-5 last summer to win the Pan American Junior title; and cleared 6-6 1/4 at the indoor nationals this indoor season.
Cunningham, who himself was a high jumper in high school, but gave it up to concentrate on football when he went to college at UNLV, a school without a track program at the time, saw special talent in his children at an early age.
“I basically saw it when Vashti and Randall would just interact, just throwing a ball or shooting baskets, just doing what brothers and sisters do,’’ he said. “I said ‘Wow, they have similar abilities.’ She was just a little kid then. It wasn’t long after she was out of diapers.
“But (Vashti) was always kind of ahead of others. She actually potty-trained herself. And athletically, she was good in all sports. She played flag football against the boys and was probably the best player on the team. She was just faster than everyone else. One game she had four touchdowns and then they stopped giving her the ball after that.’’
Randall, and his wife Felicity, lost another child, Christian, when he died tragically in a pool accident in 2010 at the age of two. They also have a four-year old daughter, Sofia.
Working with his two oldest children has a special feeling for the quarterback, who was once called “The Ultimate Weapon’’ during his playing days with the Philadelphia Eagles and later the Minnesota Vikings.
“It creates bonds,’’ Cunningham said “I’ve always been an intense person. I was like that when I got on the field. As calm as I might be otherwise, when I’m coaching I’m intense. And especially when I’m coaching my kids.’’
Cunningham lost both of his parents when he was a teen-ager growing up in Santa Barbara.
“It made me grow up earlier, I had to mature quicker,’’ he said. “It also made me an independent person. I got to a place where I had to do what I had to do in order to get to that next level. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t bend the rules. I didn’t take HGH or steroids or anything like that.
“My parents taught me to work hard and that’s what I did. And they taught me that money doesn’t grow on trees. So I try to convey those same messages to my kids and the other kids I train.
“I teach them not only how important hard work is, but dedication, and focus and consistency and integrity and moral character as well.’’