By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – For Lolo Jones, choosing a career was always easy. After overcoming adversity and dodging obstacles her entire life, it only made sense that the former LSU star would decide to leap hurdles as her profession. “My job is to literally hurdle,” said Jones. “So for me to have a hurdle in life and not be able to jump over it, well that would be silly.”
Her professional choice might have been the only easy decision in Jones life. Born Lori Jones in 1982, the future runner spent most of her youth learning how to adapt to different situations. Raised primarily by her mother as a child, the phenom bounced from school to school, never finding a single place that allowed her talent to blossom. During one span it is estimated that Jones attended eight different schools in eight years, all the while hoping that track could be her ticket out of hardship.
“My main goal was never to run track professionally,” Jones commented in an interview with the SEC Digital Network. “It was to get a college degree, so I could get out of poverty and be the first one in my family to graduate from college. That’s the reason why I decided to run track.”
Once that decision was made, another obstacle came Jones’ way. After deciding another family move wouldn’t help in the journey for her dream, young Lolo found herself having to mature in a setting outside the immediate family circle. She lived with various coaches and friends during her high school years, keeping her passion alive as she looked to make her mark on the state of Iowa.
No matter which house she lived in, Jones always found her true home on the track. That rubber surface, which she spends nearly every day of her life training on, became the biggest ally in Jones life. It was through the moments of clarity that running provided that she began to inch closer and closer to her goal.
“That is the great thing about running, it has been the most stable thing in my life,” Jones stated. “Any time I had a problem in my life, I’d go out and run. I feel totally at ease afterward.”
While Lolo found her comfort zone on the track, the rest of Iowa stood in awe. By her senior year, the state’s record book was rewritten as she blazed a trail all over the Midwest. To top it all of, she was named Gatorade Athlete of the Year, while posting a 13.40 100-meter hurdles time, a mark that still stands to this day.
Goal in hand, the talented Jones figured out her next move. Describing it now, it was never really a decision at all. “There was a question whether it was LSU, but I knew I wanted to be in the SEC (Southeastern Conference).” “I knew for track and field it (the SEC) had the most depth, and I’d face the most competition on a weekly basis,” Jones mentioned. “I just felt like it was the step I needed to go to.”
Looking back on it, Jones never realized the full scope of what she was getting into during the recruiting process. Her advice to those hoping to follow in her footsteps today? Make sure you do the research.
“The visits really helped out for me,” Jones recalls. “I went to five different SEC schools for recruiting trips, and they definitely put a spotlight on the things I liked and didn’t like. I’d tell anyone now to pay close attention if they are showing you a practice, because that is what you will be doing that next year.”
Once she finally enrolled at LSU, it all came together. Jones’ bio from her time as a Bayou Bengal reads like a resume of superhuman performances. She was an 11-time All American. In 2003, she captured a championship in both the Indoor and Outdoor seasons. Going into 2004, her situation couldn’t have been better. But adversity struck again.
After a stellar collegiate campaign, Jones eyed a move to the professional ranks, with her sights set on qualifying for the 2004 Olympic team. Despite impressive credentials coming in, the talented Tiger failed to make the National squad. It was then that Jones almost left the track for good.
“When I didn’t make the top eight of the US (in 2004), I thought it was time for me to move on,” Jones stated. “I thought I was going to go out and get a regular job.” As Jones nearly walked away, it was a familiar SEC face that encouraged her to keep moving forward. “It was actually Coach (Dennis) Shaver from LSU, he was the one that told me to stay at it, that I could get stronger. That is why I continued.”
Jones ability to “hurdle” began to pay off. Once known for her poverty stricken upbringing, the Lolo Jones name became synonymous with success. She piled up numerous top three marks all over the world, cementing herself as a force in multiple events. She captured her first professional title at the Torino Memorial in 2005, and scooped up two more first place finishes in 2006. In 2007, she earned the title US Indoor Champion, besting the field in the 60-meter hurdles event.
Redemption was on Lolo’s mind when the calendar turned to the 2008, determined to respond from her National Team setback years earlier. Respond she did, winning a trifecta of Championships heading into the summer games in Beijing. After a World Championship performance in Spain, she headed to China as the favorite in her signature event, the 100-meter hurdles.
With the country’s eyes prepared to embrace Jones as a National hero, she seemed a mere 10 seconds away from glory. The young phenom who’d grown to a successful woman was just one more hurdle away……..but “it” happened again.
Leading the field down the final stretch in Beijing, Jones’ ninth jump clipped the top of her apparatus, sending her crashing to the ground. She was mere feet away from an Olympic gold medal. The moment was captured live on television, as tears fell from Lolo’s face as the coveted piece of track history slipped out of her grasp. She finished a disappointing seventh, as teammate Dawn Harper won the race.
Jones would go on to characterize that moment is this quote. “"You hit a hurdle about twice a year where it affects your race. It's just a shame that it happened on the biggest race of my life."
As has happened many times before in her life, Jones picked herself up and headed back to the track. She continues to compete to this day, hoping to reclaim the top spot at the 2012 Olympics in London. When I asked what the future held for her, her answer was simple. “It better hold a gold medal,” she told me. “All my focus is on this Olympics.”
The Lolo Jones story is far from over, but it holds a recurring theme. Her life, like many others, has been a series of obstacles in a winding path of success. Whether she faced them as a young talent growing up in Iowa, or whether she shares it with her 30,000 Twitter followers, the message remains the same.
Sometimes life puts adversity in your way. Lolo’s advice to us all is just to “hurdle” over it.