by Kristie Bertucci // Photography by Dustin Snipes/Red Bull Content Pool With the 2012 Games around the corner, Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones is ready to leap her way to victory.
American Olympic hurdler Lori “Lolo” Jones has defined her professional career by the perseverance to conquer obstacles. There are many athletes who have stories that feature some aspect of overcoming adversity, but Jones’ story is built on it. The 29-year-old athlete hasn’t stopped hurdling her way to Olympian status, starting at a very young age. Raised by a single mother in her early years, Jones attended a different school every year until she reached high school. Finding comfort in sports, Jones excelled at track. “When everything else around me was changing, I could always go to every school and run track,” she says. “It really prepared me since, as an Olympic athlete, you have to always be traveling to new cities and countries. You’re basically never really in one place. And you have to get used to meeting new people, which is what my childhood helped me accomplish.”Jones finally found some stability in Iowa (even then, her mom moved her family while a freshman at Roosevelt High, but with the help of her coach, was able to stay with a local family) and it’s where her talents for track and field flourished. “It wasn’t until I was getting scholarship letters for colleges that I realized I was a gifted athlete,” she explains. “You really don’t hear about track stars who come out of Iowa. Fast track kids usually come from Texas, Florida or California, from huge Southern states and never from Iowa. So when those recruitment letters came, I knew I was a top athlete and good enough to garner a scholarship somewhere.”
Accepting an offer from LSU, Iowa’s Gatorade Midwest Athlete of the Year became a star and fulfilled her dream of becoming the first person in her family to graduate college. Overcoming the first series of life’s roadblocks, little did Jones know she’d be tested even more.Although realizing she excelled in the sport, after failing to make the 2004 Olympic team (her first Olympics tryout after college), the hurdler started to second-guess herself. “I knew it would be a hard road, and many times I was uncertain if I would ever achieve this dream or not,” she confesses. “After the first tryout for the team, I didn’t make it and my hopes were really low. I was ready to give it all up. I told my coach that was it and that we tried. I was mentally ready to drop it all and get a regular job.“But my coach told me I was still young and that the hurdle event was something you have to mature into, that it was something that takes years to master. With all this happening, it really took me a while to realize that I could actually be a pro athlete and make a career from it. I struggled a lot at first and worked two jobs just to pay the bills because I didn’t have that huge, mega contract that some pro athletes get right off the bat. I learned to work hard and to keep the right mindset.”
That meant learning from her past mistakes, and she didn’t let her first attempt at getting into the Olympics get the best of her. She, instead, turned her failure into motivation for making the next one, four years later. For the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, Jones was on her way to her first chance at Olympic gold – a moment she’ll always cherish.“It’s crazy how that one failure propelled me to step up my game so much more,” she laughs, reminiscing about the moment she realized she’d be headed to Beijing. “I couldn’t sleep the night before we departed over there; it was still like a dream to me.” While Jones concedes that that time provided her with wonderful memories, she, unfortunately, didn’t get her fairytale ending. Jones was favored to take the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles and had never been more confident in her career. She was ready mentally and physically, but fate seemingly had different plans. Comfortably leading the pack of competitors, Jones clipped the second-to-last hurdle, stumbling to the floor. She ended the (then) race of her life in seventh place, as her teammate Dawn Harper took home the highly coveted gold.