April 16, 2024 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

On The Fast Track

Dawn Harper

Growing up in East St Louis, Illinois, track Olympian Dawn Harper had an aptitude for running and a love for speed.

Her earliest memories are of racing around the block with neighborhood friends. She would always outrun them. At junior high, the boys even wanted her on their football teams knowing her natural ability and graceful agility would guarantee them a touchdown.

Soon she was taking part in organized races and became an eager member of “The Railers†track club. Her coach Nino Fennoy, who also coached Jackie Joyner Kersee, started his student as a sprinter in track and field competitions.

The summer after sixth grade, Dawn met coach Gerald Nave. He would help her acquire the skills of an Olympic champion. Nave started Harper on hurdles. He recognized her great speed and natural gift, and realized if she could channel that speed and talent to the hurdles there would be no limit to what she could achieve.  Every summer she would continue to train with Fennoy.

Harper longed to attend UCLA; the school that launched the careers of Kersee and Gail Devers, and boasted one of the best programs for 100 meter hurdles. But there was no way she could afford it. What Harper didn’t realize at the time, was that her drive and talent was quietly making headlines. By the time she had reached her senior year, she was a six-time Illinois High School State Champion. She was noticed by UCLA’s Head Coach, Jeanette Bolden, who traveled to St. Louis to recruit Harper, giving her a full scholarship.

Once at UCLA, Harper chose psychology as her major, and eagerly began training in the 100-meter hurdles. She excelled quickly. In 2003 she was the 100m hurdles US Junior National Champion and the 100m hurdles Pan-American Games Champion. It seemed only natural for Harper to be appointed as the 2006 track and field team captain. By graduation, she was a seven time UCLA All-American. Since her graduation in June of 2006, Harper’s been competing as a professional track athlete.

Her 2008 training season got off to a perfect start but momentum came to a halt on February 29 when a little ache turned into a major problem. Harper would have to have arthroscopic knee surgery. Off track for a month and a half Harper refused to let her injury drive her spirit down or prevent her from pursuing her dream. With her strong faith she knew that with God she could achieve anything, and this enabled her to bounce back, more determined than ever.

By July of 2008, she qualified for the USA Olympic Team by placing third in the 100m hurdles and made the Olympic Team by .007 seconds. In track and field the average age of an Olympian is 28 years old. Dawn Harper became a United States Olympian at the age of 24.  She kept telling herself one day she would, “Shock the world.†Each day brought her closer to her dream.

Once in Beijing, at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games the US team was one of the strongest. They were the anticipated winners, expected to sweep the competition. Harper however was the underdog — her fellow teammate Lolo Jones was the favorite. As the race began, Harper remained focused.  Her teammate Lolo clipped a hurdle, and stumbled, taking a disappointing seventh place. Harper surged through, victoriously becoming the gold medalist.

Harper claimed she would “shock the world†. That is exactly what she did. She took her victory lap around the track holding the USA flag, winning a gold medal for the country’s track and field team.

“This is a kid that nobody knew, and now she’s the Olympic champion. It’s breathtaking,†said Coach Bob Kersee.

Harper has plans to go for another Gold Medal in London, 2012. In the mean time looks towards winning World Championships in the years 2009 and 2011.

With her strong passion for kids she envisions being a spokeswoman, a positive role model, helping to empower children nationwide, instilling them with hope and courage letting them know that they too can reach their dreams.

in News
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