Jones Refuses to Let Life's Hurdles Deter Her

Prayer helps Olympic hopeful overcome setbacks in her quest for a gold medal.

Posted in , Jun 7, 2012

Lolo Jones

Remember the dramatic intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports? “The thrill of victory…” Footage of hurdler Lolo Jones at the 2008 Beijing Olympics could have run with the second part of that famous phrase: “…and the agony of defeat.”

The gold-medal favorite, she was flying in finals of the 100-meter hurdles, ahead of the pack with just two hurdles to go. She planted her foot, her lead leg soaring over the ninth barrier. Then, disaster. The heel of her right lead foot clipped the top of the hurdle. She stumbled.

That was the difference between first place and seventh. She’d made the most basic mistake a hurdler can make.

Lolo pounded the track with her fists, unable to quell the tears. “Why? Why? Why?” she cried out, the hurt almost more than she could bear. She’d faced adversity her whole life. It seemed like there was always one more hurdle to get past.

Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, Lolo went to eight schools in eight years. Her single mother worked two jobs to feed their family of six.

One summer they lived in a church basement, and Lolo would hurry upstairs early every morning so other kids at the church day camp wouldn’t know about her living situation.

She found refuge in the classroom and on the track. In high school when her mother said they were moving again, to a small town, Lolo stayed behind in Des Moines. “I can’t go somewhere where there’s not a track,” she said. Instead, she shuttled among families of friends.

At LSU she set collegiate records and led her team to a national title. She set her sights on the 2004 Olympics. It wasn’t to be. She failed to qualify. She wanted to quit right then and there. But her coach knew better. “I’ll see you at practice tomorrow,” he said.

Chasing the dream of being an elite athlete meant forgoing a steady job. Lolo worked part-time—at Home Depot, a gym, a restaurant—earning barely enough to pay her bills and travel to meets. Still, she kept pushing herself, getting stronger and faster.

She finished the 2006 season ranked fourth in the U.S. In 2007 she won her first national championship, in the 60-meter hurdles. She was peaking right on schedule, everything finally coming together for the 2008 Olympics. This was supposed to be her moment.

Then she clipped that hurdle. That night in Beijing, the hurt still raw, she did what she’d always done when life’s challenges seemed overwhelming. She prayed.

She counted the many ways that God had blessed her. Her health. Her strength. All the people who had supported her. The opportunity to run in the Olympics. A favorite quote from Frederick Douglass came to her: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Without all the adversity she would never have developed the drive to make it to the Olympics. Adversity had been a blessing. Lolo turned her focus to London and 2012. She’d be there.

Not surprisingly she’s faced trials since Beijing. A year ago she underwent spinal surgery that forced her to take months off from training. She came back in January as fast as ever.

There will always be hurdles in life. The thrill of victory, Lolo knows, comes from growing in faith and fortitude for having cleared those hurdles and run the race set before you.

Read more inspiring Olympic profiles.

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