An elementary school teacher drove Amy Acuff to make five U.S. Olympic teams.
Amy Lyn Acuff was born in Port Arthur, Texas—hometown of the late singer Janis Joplin—July 14, 1975. At five, she attended an older brother’s track meet where the competition concluded with a one-lap “Kiddie Run” around the track. Acuff caught the track and field bug, and one year later was competing in sprints and the long jump. After moving to the Gulf Coast town of Corpus Christi, Texas, her family took a road trip to Los Angeles to attend the 1984 Summer Olympics, where Acuff’s dream was conceived. “It left a pretty good impression on me as to what was possible in the sport. Having something visible and memorable like that brought it into my consciousness.” The dream was cemented in elementary school. While watching a Winter Olympics event on the school television, a teacher said to the students, “You know how special these people are doing these things? None of you in the room will ever be good enough to be doing what they’re doing.” The comment stuck in the young girl’s head.
Acuff attended Calallen High School, a public secondary school in Corpus Christi, with the intent of becoming a high jumper. The Lady Wildcats track team had no coach, so the 6’2” Acuff taught herself. As a 14-year-old freshman, she cleared six feet. One year later, she was the National Scholastic Indoor champion, a title she repeated as a junior. Acuff competed for the first time internationally in 1992, placing ninth at the World Junior Championships in Seoul. As a senior, the girl with no coach was named 1993 National High School Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News. Acuff had quite a summer in 1993. After graduating from Calallen in June, she won a gold medal in high jump at the Pan Am Juniors one month later in Winnipeg. In August, she jumped 6’-4” at a meet in Innsbruck, Austria, to set a high school record that stood for 22 years until it was broken by Vashti Cunningham—daughter of former NFL great Randall Cunningham—in 2015. Acuff accepted a scholarship to UCLA, where she won the NCAA indoor high jump championship three times. She won the NCAA outdoor title twice—leaping 6’-4” in 1995 to set a record that still stands. While in college, Acuff also claimed two U.S. Outdoor Championship titles, in 1995 and 1997. She made the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, finishing 24th in the Atlanta Games, before taking gold at the World University Games one year later. Miss Acuff—who is related to Roy Acuff, the “King of Country Music,” graduated UCLA with a biology degree in 1997.
Before Lolo Jones became a paparazzi magnet, Amy Acuff was the “it” girl of Track & Field, having appeared on the cover of Esquire, Maxim and Playboy magazines. A study in perseverance, she has qualified for five U.S. Olympic teams. In a sport where most athletes quit in their mid-20s due to injuries, Acuff’s career has spanned more than two decades. “Jumping stays fresh for me because I’m constantly open to refinement and improvement.” She is a six-time USATF [outdoor] champion and has won five national indoor titles, second only to the legendary Alice Coachman for most in American history. Acuff’s best Olympic performance came in 2004, when she finished fourth in Athens, just three centimeters shy of a silver medal. After finishing 12th at the 2009 World Outdoor Championships, Acuff found out she was pregnant and retired. In her downtime, she taught herself how to write software code and launched a company that develops sports performance apps. Three years later, Acuff made a comeback and earned a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. In 2004, she married Tye Harvey, 2001 men’s indoor silver medalist, who became her coach. This July, the 41 year-old Amy Acuff-Harvey, whose career high jump best is 6’-7”, will attempt to make her sixth Olympic team.