At 7:55 a.m. ET on Monday morning, the third semifinal in the women's 400-meter hurdles event at the Tokyo Olympics began. A mere 54.17 seconds later, U.S.A.'s Anna Cockrell crossed the finish line in second place, just 0.25 seconds behind leader Femke Bol of the Netherlands and 0.08 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Viktoriya Tkachuk of Ukraine.
By virtue of that finish, Cockrell, Bol and Tkachuk all qualified for Tuesday's finals in the event, meaning Cockrell may soon be less than a minute from earning an Olympic medal and fulfilling a lifelong dream.
At the AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa, Anna's older brother, Ross Cockrell watched the semifinal race, filled with anxiety but surrounded by Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates and coaches. The finish was extremely close, as the times above attest, and the cheers that arose around Ross when it was over were raucous.
"She gutted it out at the end," he said. "My heart was pounding through my chest. I was sweating just watching her run. It was hard for me to sleep last night so I hope she got some rest."
Cockrell would soon be sweating for another reason, as the viewing party fell about a half an hour before the start of the Buccaneers' training camp practice. Given that the Buccaneers are weeks away from any meaningful competition, it would be hard for him to top his sister's big day.
But that didn't stop him from trying!
Cockrell somehow managed a star turn in a two-hour practice, most of it conducted inside the indoor facility after lightning was detected in the area. It's not easy to have a newsworthy day in an early-August workout in shorts, but it certainly helps to snare three flashy interceptions, as Cockrell did Monday, while playing a position he only picked up a week ago.
"It was great to see," said safety Jordan Whitehead, who is now sharing reps with Cockrell, normally a cornerback by trade. "We watched [Anna's race] as a team, and then we go out to practice and now he gets three interceptions. Great guy, lots of information, smart, plays every position. So to see him do that after a couple days at safety, that's not easy to do. It shows how great of a player he is."
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
As one big play followed another for Cockrell, it began to feel like it was meant to be after his sister's incredible accomplishment just a short time before practice.
"It was just a tremendous feeling," he said. "Coach [Bruce] Arians, the Bucs family, the Bucs team – being able to watch my sister run with this team and with this family, it just was amazing. 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 and adverse situations, and then go out to practice and be able to do my things. I was just feeling the magic that she had. I think she passed it along to me."
The morning was so momentous for the Cockrell siblings that Arians thought that someone from the family deserved a "Game Ball" after the Bucs' practice. But he didn't give it to either Anna or Ross.
"We were holding our breath, and it was such a close race and she finished so strong and got in there," said Arians. "The whole room exploded and [we're] really, really happy for him. 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."
Indeed, it was quite a day for the Cockrell family, even before the clock struck noon on the East Coast. Kieth and Serena raised three kids, including a second sister, Ciera, who is one year older than Anna and five younger than Ross. All three remain very close and Anna actually called Ross on Sunday evening to get some help calming her nerves.
"My sister's a tremendous personality," said Ross. "She's a bright light. 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, yes it is a big stage, so she should be feeling nerves. She should be feeling excitement about what's coming up. But the biggest thing that I just 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, and I'm glad that she was able to do it."
The 400-meter hurdles final will be held on what will be late Tuesday evening in the U.S. Eastern time zone, after the team's training camp curfew for the night. There will be no watch party at team headquarters this team but Ross will definitely be watching from his hotel room. The biggest race of Anna's life has now led to one that will be even bigger. It's possible that the Cockrell family will welcome a Super Bowl ring and an Olympic medal into their coffers in the same calendar year.
And maybe if Anna shines again on Tuesday night it will drive Ross to more heroics on the practice field as camp continues. He definitely felt the effects on Monday.
"I love Anna, Ciera," he said. "I was just feeding off her magic. 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."