Samantha Dirks in take-off position on a track wearing a white shirt with an LA28 logo and black leggings





Athletes face a multitude of challenges and triumphs in the pursuit of representing their country on the Olympic stage. Samantha ‘Sam’ Dirks, a Belizean Olympic sprinter and an athlete elevating her country's presence in the world of track and field is one of those remarkable athletes. Sam is not just a sprinter, she's a role-model for anyone with big dreams and is now on a new track with the LA28 Olympic & Paralympic Fellowship Program.
Sam Dirks wearing a black tank top, standing in front of a track wearing the number  257


During her last year of high school, Sam found her passion for running and decided it was "now or never" to give track and field a try. “Being uncomfortable is my favorite thing,” Sam said. “It was cool learning track and field as quickly as I could at age 18. Kids usually start when they're younger, but I did a crash course and fell in love with it.” It wasn’t until her freshman year at California State University, Northridge, that she started to take training seriously and saw her athletic career take off.
Sam Dirks standing in a black college graduation gown, smiling, holding flowers and diploma


“I trained as much as I could during the summer before transitioning to college. My goal was to walk onto the D1 track team, and I was kept during the walk-on tryouts,” Sam said. “I became a student of the sport and threw myself into a whole new world that I didn't know anything about."


Sam attributes her rapid progress in sport to the mentorships of her college coaches who pushed her to achieve remarkable milestones, including dropping her sprint times significantly. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition, Dietetics & Food Science at Northridge in 2016, all while aiming to make her first Olympic team.  

Sam Dirks standing on a track smiling with her hands on her hips and wearing Belize track gear


Throughout her journey, Sam had her share of successes as well as setbacks, including an injury due to overtraining and a slipped disc that forced her to miss the 2016 Olympic Games. Sam then “went back to the drawing board” and began to correct the things that led to her injuries and made some major life changes including relocating from Los Angeles to Orlando to train with a new coach. These big changes paid off and Sam qualified to represent Belize at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Sam Dirks surrounded by her family members smiling and holding a cake that says 'Tokyo 2020' with the Olympic rings


“It was huge, it surprised me, it was a battle between feeling really excited and also scared, but I realized it was my time to walk into this moment. So, I embraced it and celebrated, and my family was so proud of me. Competing for Belize and being able to represent our country unified my family,” Sam said. “It was a great honor and such a big deal for us. My family still talks about, ‘My gosh, you're an Olympian!’ That never goes away and it's true that it's an honor you carry for life.”
Sam Dirks standing in front of the national flag of Belize


The story of Samantha Dirks is also a story of her strong connection to her roots. Her family hails from Belize, and despite being born in Los Angeles, Sam has always felt a deep connection to her family’s homeland. At one point she had hoped to represent the United States but quickly realized that she could make a significant impact on the track and field community in Belize by representing them instead. 


Belize, like many smaller nations, faces the challenge of limited funding and infrastructure for sports. Sam hoped that through representing Belize, she would be able to shine a light on the country and help to increase resources, education and support for athletes there. 


“One of the reasons I wanted to compete for Belize was to attract more attention to the country and promote funneling of assistance to the athletes and the federation. I definitely did what I could by giving my teammates gear and spikes,” Sam said.

Sam Dirks walking in the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremonies holding the Belizean flag


Although she admits there is still more work to be done, Sam remains encouraged by the receptiveness she has received for her efforts. Coincidentally, when Sam achieved her dream of making it to the Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020, she was chosen as the flag bearer for Belize alongside one of her athlete countrymen, symbolizing the power of her role as a bridge between her birthplace and her ancestral homeland.


Now, as an LA28 Fellow assigned to Partnership Sales, Sam is poised to contribute to the Olympic Movement in a new way. Her unique background and personal journey make her a valuable member of the LA28 team, where she is using her experiences to contribute to the planning for the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.


“Sam brings a voice and perspective that no one else on our team can provide – the point of view of an athlete,” said LA28 Partnerships Manager and Sam’s mentor, Gage Axford. “Given that athletes sit at the center of the entire Movement, it’s incredibly valuable to have someone who has lived the athlete experience and can authentically speak to it as a contributing member of our team.”

Sam Dirks smiling and stretching on a pad on the grass


For Sam, the Fellowship is all about continuing to grow and making herself uncomfortable in new areas of sport. “When I joined the Fellowship Program I wanted to experience and begin to understand the other side of sport,” Sam said. “I always thought that the only path for me would be working with or coaching athletes, but learning about the business side of sport and being able to share the athlete voice is fundamental and equally as important.”
Sam Dirks looking at a computer screen


Sam has also been pleasantly surprised by how trusted the Athlete Fellow voices are when it comes to knowing what a Games experience is like. "Putting on the Games in Los Angeles for the first time since 1984 is challenging, but I feel a lot of trust from my mentors. This is a unique opportunity for athletes to directly transfer their skills and experience to the corporate world and make a real difference,” Sam said.
Sam Dirks making an 'LA' sign with her hands


“Not only does the Fellowship Program contribute to addressing clear professional development barriers many athletes face after retiring from the field-of-play, but it also sources new professional talent and diversity into LA28,” said Gage, Sam’s Manager. “We need athlete perspectives as we continue to shape the Games and work to deliver a legacy and impact that will last well beyond 2028.”


Sam's story is a reminder that the pursuit of any dream is not just about personal success, but also about uplifting and inspiring others. Her journey from discovering a love for track and field in high school, to representing Belize on the world stage demonstrates the power of resilience, determination and passion when in pursuit of a dream. Through her own perseverance and by sprinting for Team Belize, Sam helped bridge the gap between nations, and embodies what it means to be an Olympian in every sense of the word.




To watch the interview with Sam, please visit the LA28 YouTube Channel.