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Tara Davis and Hunter Woodhall's love for each other is undeniable. The track and field power couple have been together since high school, and this summer, their relationship will face the ultimate test: competing at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. If you ask them point-blank, they couldn't be more up for the challenge.
During the past year and a half of uncertainty, University of Texas long jumper Davis, 20, and Woodhall, 22, a two-time Paralympic medalist, had their inextricable bond to keep them grounded as they each trained to qualify for a coveted spot on the world’s biggest athletic stage.
For Woodhall, the odds were pretty much stacked against him from birth. He was born with fibular hemimelia, a congenital disability that made him unable to walk, let alone run, and both of his legs were amputated when he was just shy of 1 year old. Once he was given prosthetic legs, he grew to enjoy sports, specifically track and field. Woodhall continued to defy expectations when he received a track scholarship to the University of Arkansas and later become a two-time Paralympic medalist, eventually switching to carbon-fiber blades for running.
Davis and Woodhall first met four years ago at a track meet in Pocatello, Idaho. Davis recalled the first time she ever laid eyes on Woodhall: “When I first saw him, I was like, 'Oh my god! This boy is fine!' I had to figure out who he was.” For his part, Woodhall said, “My first impression of her is that she was gorgeous. She walked right up to me and hugged me. No questions… I was like, ‘Wow, this girl is bold—she knows what she wants.’”
Davis and Woodhall’s love story hasn't always been easy. Living over 500 miles apart—she in Texas, he in Arkansas—has its struggles, but their commitment to prioritizing their relationship ensures that it works. The couple announced that Davis will soon bring her 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,” Woodhall said. “Over the past four years, we learned how to communicate and operate as a couple. We have had countless situations where we had done badly on both sides, but we learned from those lessons and genuinely want to grow our relationship.” Davis added: “We try to see the other side of an argument. We try not to tell each other how we should feel.”
As the world went under lockdown, Davis and Woodhall spent six months holed 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 responsibilities, no one was calling us, and no one asked us to do anything. We just got to enjoy life.”
With Davis gaining traction for breaking multiple collegiate records in the long jump and Woodhall’s inspiring story, the couple has garnered significant social media clout with a combined 470,000-plus followers on Instagram and nearly 275,000 subscribers on YouTube (and counting). Even though social media couples can sometimes seem inauthentic, Davis and Woodhall are the real deal.
ELLE.com brought the couple together to discuss how they're preparing for the summer games, balancing a long-distance relationship, and what they love most about each other.
What was it like training for the Olympics and Paralympics this past year, of all years?
Hunter Woodhall: Training this year was different for me because I recently went pro at the beginning of the year. There were a lot of changes, but it was exciting to have a clear goal. All of last year’s training led to the Olympics, then the games were postponed. Now that the games are happening, it's refreshing to have a solid goal.
Tara Davis: My training was a bit different because I was training for collegiate meets. I had to focus on Indoor Nationals, Conference Championships, and Outdoor Nationals. After Outdoor Nationals, I had two weeks to train for the Olympic trials. During training, I had to clean up more technical stuff and envisioned myself jumping the distance to make the team.
Were you surprised at all when you qualified?
Woodhall: I walked into 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 off of my shoulders. The first thing I said to [Davis] was, "That is one out of two, so we’re halfway there." The job wasn’t done because we needed [Davis] to qualify. But, when she qualified, I was very emotional. I cried. It was a really special moment for sure.
Davis: I was so freaking excited when I qualified! Making the Olympic team has always been my dream, and finally achieving my number one goal of jumping seven meters. It was just like [Woodhall] said, “a weight lifted off my shoulders.” Yes, the nationals were huge. Yes, breaking the collegiate long jump record was huge. But it’s way bigger to make the Olympic team. It was surreal. All the emotions that I went through over the past two years just went all over the track.
Given that COVID-19 cases are currently rising in Japan, what safety protocols are you taking in order to compete?
Davis: Due to COVID, there will not be spectators at the games. I am such a crowd connoisseur—I love working the crowds. But I am going to keep my head focused. We have a lot of protocols before we leave the country and while we are at the games. We have to download apps on our phones so they can track us to see if we have come in contact with someone who tested positive. Before, USA Village was pretty open, but now it is separated based on the sport. Track and Field will have our own cafeteria, track, and living area. I will support Hunter by making sure he doesn’t come in close contact with someone who has COVID so he can compete.
Woodhall: I’ll be tracked by the Olympics and Tara Davis. [Laughs.] There is a rule that we cannot hug or high-five any competitors, which is odd, but I do understand. I'm really thankful that the games are still happening.
How have you been supporting each other through 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 want to. Both of us have been through a lot, especially in our track careers. It's easier to get through stuff when we do it together.
Davis: Hunter’s words mean everything. He saved my life. Besides my parents and close family members, Hunter is my rock, my best friend, and everything combined into one human being. He's a minuscule on this earth and has made such a huge impact in my world.
To learn more about all the Team USA athletes, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics, beginning July 23, and the Tokyo Paralympics, beginning Aug. 24, on NBC.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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