MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis high school student is fulfilling her dream of getting into the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
She is the only African American from the Memphis area accepted this year, but what makes her story even more remarkable is her dedication and the coach who helped her get there.
Zekeya Gladney, 18, is an honors student at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering. She said West Point has an acceptance rate of just 10%.
“It’s really hard to get in,” she said.
Zekeya had the academics, but had to pass a physical test — a certain number of sit-ups in two minutes, a shuttle run and running a mile in less than nine minutes.
“I only did four pushups in the whole two minutes when I first came up here,” she said.
Zekeya needed training. Her mom suggested MASE’s high school football coach, Julius Jackson, who at the time was sick and busy with his football team.
But he agreed to help Zekeya.
“We went almost four or five days a week,” Jackson said. “We went right after school and then on the weekends.”
That meant 5:30 a.m. workouts at Crump Stadium, pullups at Tom Lee Park and running at Shelby Farms.
“I just kept putting her in situations that made her uncomfortable so she could get over the fear of not being able to, you know, not being afraid to fail,” Jackson said.
Zekeya said she didn’t want to quit. “I wanted to make sure I got in there.”
Her mom saw the transformation.
“I am extremely proud,” mom Latrice Wright said. “I mean, she was a dainty little princess in dresses. I never imagined her outside running, doing pushups.”
Zekeya went from doing four pushups in two minutes to doing 32 pushups in two minutes.
Then came the letter, sent on behalf of the president and the secretary of the Army.
“I was so happy just to see the excitement on her face. It was amazing,” Jackson said.
Now Zekeya wants other African American students to know about the opportunities at West Point.
“I talked to him about getting more kids, recruiting more kids into the service academy because it’s an Ivy League education for pretty much free,” she said.
Zekeya reports to West Point for her first day Tuesday. She and her mom are already in town there, getting ready.