TAMPA, Fla. -- On the eve of the biggest race of her life -- the Tokyo Olympics women's 400-meter hurdles semifinal -- Anna Cockrell called the one person she knew she could turn to who knew something about nerves and fighting self-doubt: Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ross Cockrell, her Super Bowl-winning brother.
Ross Cockrell had watched as Anna Cockrell fought her way through debilitating depression, to the point that, she said, "In 2019, I didn't want to be here anymore," to become a two-time NCAA champion, earn her master's degree in public policy at USC and deliver the school's student-athlete graduation speech.
"She's a bright light," Ross Cockrell said. "So I just reminded her just to enjoy the process, all the work that she's done to get to this point. Yes, it is the Olympics, it is a big stage, so she should be feeling nerves, she should feel excitement about what's coming up. But the biggest thing I shared with her was to, 'Breathe, do it and let her light shine.' That's something that we talk about a lot. Kind of 'charging up her stars' is a little joke that we have."
Just before practice Monday at 7:55 a.m., the Buccaneers gathered in a large auditorium beneath a giant screen to watch the third 400-meter hurdles semifinal. In rain-soaked heat, Anna Cockrell emerged to overtake Viktorija Tkachuk and finish in second place with a time of 54.17 seconds, clinching a spot in the final in her first Olympic Games.
"She gutted it out at the end," Ross Cockrell said. "My heart was pounding through my chest. I was sweating, just watching her run. I mean, it was hard for me to sleep last night, so I hope she got some rest."
One Team. One Cause. pic.twitter.com/LGjuSJjk5q— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) August 2, 2021
It was the same come-from-behind magic she had at the Olympic trials, where she went from fifth to third in the final turn for a personal-best 53.70.
"It was awesome, man," coach Bruce Arians said. "Everybody was holding our breath. It was such a close race, and she finished so strong and got in there. I mean, the whole room exploded. Really, really happy for him."
Not to be outdone, Ross Cockrell, who has bounced between cornerback and safety due to injuries to the Buccaneers' safeties, followed with a strong practice in which he posted three interceptions.
"Being able to watch my sister run with this team and this family, it was just amazing," Cockrell said. "It was the biggest race of her life, and to see her go out there and perform as well as she did, in adverse weather, in adverse situations, and then to go out to practice and be able to do my thing, I was just feeling the magic that she had. I think she passed it along to me."
"I was just feeding off her magic," he added. "She gave me the magic, and I was able to continue on. It's just a great feeling and a great moment for our family."
Arians said the team won't hold a watch party for the final due to Tuesday's late start time of 10:30 p.m. ET being just before curfew, but Ross Cockrell plans to watch the race in the hotel with teammates. There will also be watch parties among family members scattered across Louisiana, Washington, D.C., and New York.
"We gave a game ball to Mom and Dad after practice because the kids are what they're supposed to be, but Mom and Dad did a hell of a job raising them, that's for sure." Arians said.
After seeing the video of the Buccaneers cheering her on, Anna Cockrell tweeted, "Y'ALL GOT ME CRYING IN THE VILLAGE DINING HALL." She also joked, upon learning of her brother's interceptions, "Wow really making me share the spotlight today. Just kidding. I love this and he better DO IT."