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An inspirational Olympic story


Remember the name Lolo Jones. I have an idea you will be hearing a lot more about this American girl as she attempts to steal headlines shortly in London.

Four years ago in Beijing she was the newspaper red banner queen, but for all the wrong reasons. She was favoured to win gold in the 100 metre hurdles and all was on track until an almighty stumble in the final derailed both herself and her ambitions.

In a calamity that stunned the athletics world, her leading foot clipped the ninth hurdle and her golden ambition instantaneously disintegrated to a seventh place finish. It was the start of a bewildering time for Jones.

After recovering from that traumatic emotional scarring, Lolo ventured back onto the track but more disappointment was to follow.

To her astonishment a disconcerting pattern was evolving as meeting after meeting was shrouded in disillusionment. Lolo was constantly hitting hurdles. The situation that presented itself was mind-boggling. Here was one of the world’s elite athletes and suddenly she could not cleanly finish a discipline that she ruled for years. Not only did she have to cope with that distress but an incapacitating back pain was hampering any progression.

Her career and her life were suddenly in tatters. She did not know where to turn. She feared her life was cascading back to the hopelessness she felt when growing up. She came from abject poverty. In her early teens her father, who is now imprisoned, taught her to steal dinners for the family table because she could run fast. As a child she had little future. Only running provided an escape. It seemed that cloud of melancholy was descending again and she bravely decided that she did not want to retread that path. She had to sort this out.

After extensive consultation with specialists she was presented with a conclusion that gave her hope. She was diagnosed with a tethered spinal cord syndrome, which is a congenital neurological disorder that restricts the movement of the spinal cord.

To further confirm her fears, a leading neurological spine surgeon explained her dramatic demise by identifying that she was struggling with a tell-tale indicator. Thorough testing revealed that she had lost crucial directional feeling in her feet. Plainly put, she was competing without being able to accurately place her toes in the correct alignment. Further scans confirmed the diagnosis and the long path to correction and recovery was designed.

Spinal surgery is not for the faint-hearted but this was the only way that Lolo could bounce back and become a threat again on the world stage. In August 2011 the operation took place. When she was finally discharged from hospital her goal was to walk to her bathroom. That was all she could manage for a month. Next she was instructed to walk for fifteen minutes. She managed to walk only the total yardage of her driveway in her first attempt.

Jones was always admired for her drive and her determination but now she was being properly tested. The clock for London was ticking and her legendary work ethic was once again required. Months and months of repetitious rehabilitation followed and slowly but surely that admired single-minded focus returned.

The memory of that spinal surgery of less than a year ago that left her dependent was fading and she was back on the road to redemption.

Last weekend Lolo Jones qualified for the USA Olympic Team. She has one final career hurdle to clear. Most would say she already deserves a medal.


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