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High school phenom in Rio Olympics high jump final

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Vashti Cunningham of the U.S. smiles after winning the gold medal in women's high jump during the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships in Portland, Oregon on March 20, 2016. Photo: RNS-OLYMPICS

Vashiti Cunningham, 18, daughter of retired NFL signal caller Randall Cunningham on biggest stage of her life; Olympics high jump

 By KIMBERLY WINSTON, Contributing Writer

RIO de JANEIRO (RNS) — Randall Cunningham is not only Vashti Cunningham’s father, he is also her high jump coach and her pastor.

That’s a lot of father-daughter time in any family, but in this one, it’s part of the family business — producing elite athletes who are also deeply committed Christians.

Randall Cunningham, 53, was a quarterback, primarily for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. He retired in 2001. Felicity Cunningham, Randall Cunningham’s wife, is a former professional ballerina.

Their eldest son, Randall Cunningham II, is a track-and-field star at the University of Southern California, and second child Vashti, 18, is making her Olympic debut in the women’s high jump.

“She has the genetics,” Randall Cunningham told the Portland Tribune. “God has blessed her. …  The strength, the jumping — she has that.”

She also has her parents’ faith. Randall and Felicity Cunningham are co-pastors and founders of Remnant Ministries, a nondenominational Christian church with about 1,200 members that grew out of a weekly Bible study the couple held in their Las Vegas living room.

Randall Cunningham also coaches a local high school football team and owns a marble and tile business. In between, he coaches his children in the high jump, a sport he competed in when he was their age.

“Most of it is mental training,” Randall told CBS Sports in Rio. “Mental training is about the inner being, in my opinion, and (Vashti) trusts God. A lot of athletes are strong Christians, because when you exhaust yourself with believing in yourself, you have to believe in the truth. You can’t rub a rabbit’s foot. The rabbit’s foot is not going to do anything for you. But when you pull on the true and living God, there’s power in that.”

The Cunninghams named Vashti for the Persian queen in the biblical Book of Esther who famously refused her husband’s demand that she dance in only her crown.

“I think there is strength in the name because I’m not easily persuaded,” Vashti told a Los Angeles daily newspaper, “and I personally will not do anything that I don’t think is right.”

Vashti appears relaxed as she waits for her event in Rio. Her personal best is 6 feet, 6-and-one-quarter inches, and she’s told her father she is aiming for 6-feet, 7 inches.

“I try to stay calm and focus on what I have to do,” she said before qualifying for Team USA in July. “Trust God and let things happen.”

Religion News Service.

Vashti Cunningham smiles after winning the gold medal in women’s high jump during the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships in Portland, Ore., on March 20, 2016. Photo: RNS-OLYMPICS

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