“Whatever someone sees in me, or whatever they can relate to, I just hope that they can use that to get out and reach for their dreams,” Erin Jackson tells PEOPLE
Erin Jackson is reveling in her Olympic glory.
Shortly after the speed skater took the gold at the Beijing Winter Games in the women’s 500m, becoming the first Black woman to win an individual medal in the event, the athlete, 29, tells PEOPLE she still cannot believe her feat.
Calling her feelings “just kind of like a big rush of a whole bunch of different” things, Jackson says of winning: “At first it was shock and happiness, relief of course, just because it’s always stressful. There’s a bit of stress mixed in with just daily life as an athlete, and of course, being on a stage like that.”
“[There’s] just a big relief from all the training that I put in from the season and just having it pay off. Yeah, the main thing for sure, happiness,” she continues. “It was pretty cool.”
Erin Jackson | CREDIT: COURTESY US SPEEDSKATING
During her event, Jackson won gold with a time of 37.04. She crossed the finish line just 0.08 seconds before Japan’s Miho Takagi, while Angelina Golikova of the Russian Olympic Committee came in third with a time of 37.21.
Jackson is also the first U.S. woman to win gold in speed skating at the Olympics in nearly 30 years after Bonnie Blair placed first in 1994.
The Florida native’s victory came after her teammate Brittany Bowe gave up her spot in last month’s qualifying event so Jackson could go to Beijing in her place. (After spots in the 500m were reallocated, Bowe, 33, was also able to compete in the event).
The noble move came after Jackson placed third, due to an unfortunate slip on the ice. “No one is more deserving than her to get an opportunity to bring Team USA home a medal,” Bowe said of her decision at the time.
CREDIT: ROBERT CIANFLONE/GETTY
Jackson says she hopes her achievement as a Black woman will inspire other young girls to compete, themselves. “I just hope that it can kind of help other people think maybe I can try something new, get out and try some of the winter sports, or even just speed skating specifically,” she says.
“I’m always trying to be a good example to anyone who wants to look, [especially as] a Black person in a predominantly white sport, to put it simply,” she continues. “Or even just someone who wants to show [parents] that their kids can have multiple priorities in life, not just sports and not just school, but how it’s possible to do both.”
“But yeah, whatever someone sees in me, or whatever they can relate to, I just hope that they can use that to get out and reach for their dreams,” Jackson adds.
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Looking ahead, Jackson says she is “definitely” aiming to compete in the next Winter Olympics when they take place in Italy in 2026.
“I feel like I can’t be done yet,” she tells PEOPLE. “I feel like I’m just starting to figure it out, so I don’t want to stop now.”
However, Jackson says she plans to take a pause now that her run at the 2022 Games is over.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to it, [but] not too quickly,” she explains. “I want to take some time to myself, but [I’m] definitely excited about the next Games.”