The end of my fourth Olympics has me reflecting … on my career. On life. On everything.
My whole life I’ve been running.
When I was a kid, it was like Oh, my mother is sending me to the shop? O.K., I’m running there. I’m not stopping.
Anywhere I go, I’m running as fast as I can.
I remember when I was in basic school [I think you guys call it kindergarten in the U.S.] we had an earthquake in Jamaica, and I’m not even kidding, I ran all the way from the school to my house. It was about 400 meters, and I remember just running, running, running, running.
The guys on my street, my neighbors, when they’d see me out in the street running somewhere they were always cheering me on like, You go and get ’em, Shelly-Ann! Go, Shelly! And things like that.
That’s when I think I had this realization that I might have something, you know?
I’m from a community called Waterhouse, and I have truly happy memories of it, but it can also be known for other things … gang violence and stuff like that. I lived in what we called tenement yards, which are basically like the projects in America.
So I’d be running around playing in the streets all the time, and after a while I remember my mum would always say, “Walk! Stop the running, and walk, Shelly!”
Yes, that’s how I got my start. But that’s how we all get our start here.
Track is Jamaican culture. It’s tradition.
As a country we are so invested in track, from the very small, smallest of ages. From when they are three years old, children are learning how to jump over little hurdles, that’s just how it is.
We have something in Jamaica called Sports Day, where students compete against each other in races and things like that. And I can still remember how every year the parents would come and watch the kids run. It was so, so competitive! It was definitely more about the parents than the students. If your son or daughter was fast it was like bragging rights in the neighborhood.
Parents’d be out there yelling, “Yah, man, come on, Merlene Ottey! Come on, Donald Quarrie!” They were such icons and legends, so the grownups would call you that if you were fast.
It’s funny, you know how in America, everybody’s so hung up on which college you went to and whether you’re from University of Texas or LSU or wherever?
In Jamaica, it’s about our high schools because of how competitive track is at that level. It’s just crazy like that. And we have serious beef! Hahah. Like, I don’t talk to him because he supports this school.
Yeah, it’s that crazy. But it’s all in good jest. For me, I’m just proud to be part of such a history and to continue the legacy that many other athletes before me started. I went to Wolmer’s Trust High School for Girls, which I think is the oldest school in the Caribbean, and the best school in Jamaica. So I went to a very good school, and it was my mother’s pride.
I was the only one in my family that went to a traditional high school, and I think she saw in me so much hope. When I started at Wolmer’s she was super proud … so proud she showed up to my school every day.
My mum got pregnant with my older brother when she was in high school, but before that she had been a runner, too. So it must’ve meant so much to her having me at Wolmer’s, a top 10 track school, because her dream was cut short.
She didn’t have a high school diploma, she didn’t go to college, but here is her daughter defying all that, making things different.
I was the only one in my family that went to a traditional high school, and I think she saw in me so much hope.Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
She was going to make sure that — even with all the distractions that I had around me in my community — I was going to stay on the straight and narrow. She was just so strict when it came to that. I wasn’t allowed to stand around on the streets, or talk to any boys.
I was always supposed to be at track training. Every day she would call the coach and say, “Did Shelly show up at practice?” And if I hadn’t, she would find me and walk me to the bus stop.
It’s funny because walking to the bus was really the only time as a kid that I wasn’t running somewhere, and that was only because I didn’t want to mess up my uniform. It was a long journey, and I didn’t want to be sweating and looking all messy when I got to school.
Back then, I was always so mindful of people judging me because of where I was from.
It’s almost as if everything that I did, I had to put an extra effort into it to not have people look at me in a certain kind of way. I had to make sure all my socks were clean, my shoes were clean, stuff like that, because you don’t want people to think you are worse off than them.
At my school there were poor kids, and there were rich kids. It was almost like a culture shock for a lot of us because, while we’d take the bus to school, you’d also have girls from well-off families being dropped off in Cadillacs and BMWs.
Even if you came in a Honda, it was like, Whoa.
And one of the biggest things was when girls carried lunch to school. It was like, O.K., she can afford to carry lunch to school, while the rest of us have to eat whatever they’re serving in the lunchroom.
There were a lot of different things that, for me, as a young girl, kind of forced me to not only act different, but also to pretend. Pretend, Oh, I don’t live in Waterhouse, I live somewhere else.
I didn’t have cable at home, and I remember kids would always come to school talking about 106 & Park, and I would be like, “Yeah, I watched it!” And I definitely didn’t.
My mum was self-employed, so she was like what we call in Jamaica … we’d say now that she’s an entrepreneur, but back in that time they would call her a higgler. That’s the term they would use.
She would be on the streets selling different things, all day in the hot sun.
My friends would say, “Oh, I passed your mother at Pablo’s!” or “I just passed your mother in Half Way Tree selling,” And I’m like, Ookay, then….
She used to come on campus and actually sell to my teachers, as well. I’d be like, “Oh, my God.”
When it was lunchtime, my friends were just super, super excited about her. They were like, “Oh, your mother is here!” They would be walking with her to the lunchroom, and I would be way at the back.
Those things kind of made me feel embarrassed in a small way, because my mother had to sit on the street and sell her goods and wares. But at the end of the day, I knew why she was doing it.
So that we could afford for me to go to that school.
So that we had food to eat.
So that I had a chance at a better life.
And she was always supportive and very, very proud of me, even before I’d ever achieved anything. So I couldn’t be too upset.
Like every Sports Day, she was always there. I remember one year, especially.
We normally have a parent race at school, and that’s a big thing, because everybody wants to say, “Oh, my mother is fast,” or, “Oh, my father is fast.”
But my mother was actually fast.
So when you start school, they assign you to a “house,” and this particular year I was in Blue House. I was also team captain.
One thing about my mum, she’s going to show up and show out. Always. I thought it was just amazing that she never hid her personality or who she was. Sometimes it was too much for me, but my friends loved it.
I remember my mum showed up in a blue wig to the parent race.
And they were like, “On your mark … get set….”
As long as I live I will never get this picture out of my head. My mother, in her bright blue wig and her white dress, just flying. And ALL my friends were cheering.
And of course, she won.
I was so, so proud. I was like, “Yeah, that’s my mother!!”
Her sacrifice is the reason that I’m even standing here now, after my fourth Olympic Games.
It’s crazy how fast time goes.
Back in Beijing in 2008, at my first Olympics, I didn’t even think about the gold medal. I was just 21. All I wanted to do was make the team.
Funny story, I came in second at my national championship that year, and the track and field administration in Jamaica thought I was too young to actually go to the Olympics, and so they considered taking me out and putting in somebody who was more experienced.
I had a very good support network in my coach and my teammates. My coach was like, “There is no way they’re taking you off that team.” And he had to just put his foot down, and I think that really made the difference.
Before I left he told me, “Just focus on what you can control, don’t focus on anything else,” and that’s what I did.
There was so much controversy back home, but when I got to Beijing, I was just ecstatic.
I remember I still had my braces, and I was super, super jovial and bubbly like, “Yeaahhhhhhh, I’m at the Olympics!!”
All I wanted to do was make the team.Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
There was one more piece of advice my coach had left me with. He said, “Nobody expects anything from you.” He said they’d be like, “Oh, this girl is unknown,” so there was no pressure on me.
So when I got up to the line, I was like, O.K., they’re not worried about me. And I think that helped me to really have fun with it.
My mum had called me before the race, because they were watching back home.
I remember I had my hair out, and she was like, “No, pin back your hair because it’s going to slow you down.” So I did. I would do every little thing she said when she called, everything.
I went to the line, and you’d never have guessed that it was my first Olympic Games. At that time, they had four rounds. It was like a heats, a quarterfinals, a semifinals, and a final.
And I won every round.
I remember when I went back to Waterhouse, they had music playing in the streets. It was a great big celebration. I couldn’t even walk on my block, there were so many people. It was so crowded.
They actually painted a mural of me on my road, and I’m huge. It’s still there. If you go on my street, you will see it.
And I remember when I won, reporters went to my house to talk to my family. My friends were like, “Oh, your mother and your father and everybody’s on TV!” They showed my house, and I didn’t know how I felt about it because I was still very self-conscious, so it was hard.
But I was so proud of myself. And everything changed for me after that.
I still live here in Jamaica, but I live in Kingston now.
My house is O.K. It has my bed in it, and I’m able to have a shower. When I was younger, my bathroom was outside. It didn’t have any covering, it was just there. Now my bathroom is covered, and my kitchen is covered, and that’s all that I can ask for.
God has been good.
I’m 34 now, which is really something because in the track world, when a woman turns 30, the assumption is that she’s somehow diminished in her capabilities.
So, when I turned 30, there were just so many things in my head to discourage me.
It wasn’t even like I was trying to prove anyone wrong. I was just trying to prove myself right, that I could do this. I know God has given me this ability, and I know what I’m able to do, and I believe that I can do great things.
I had to take it to another level, I had to believe more in who I was, and think less about what people expect. Because they probably think, Oh, she had a baby, she just turned 30, maybe it’s time for her to put it down.
But I wanted to break the 11-second barrier, and I did that.
I wanted to run below 22 seconds in the 200 meters, and I did that.
I’m just so grateful to have been able to accomplish those dreams in my life.
When I turned 30, there were just so many things in my head to discourage me. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
I’ll be honest, these Olympics didn’t go the way I’d wanted them to. I wanted to become the first woman to win three gold medals in the 100 meters, and unfortunately that didn’t happen this time. But God’s will always prevails, and Elaine was able to bring home the gold for our country.
At the end of the day, I’m still proud.
Everything I had, I gave it.
I hope that I inspired women to understand that age is just a number. At 34 years old, I was still on the starting block, giving everything for my country. Helping to bring home the gold in the 4 × 100 relay really was the perfect ending.
In most places, track is an individual sport, you know? It is all about you, the runner.
But here? Track is the collective. It is in our blood, in our social fabric.
It is all of us.
I won’t lie, if you saw us out there, you know we are competitive as hell!! Hahah.
But at the end of the day, we all run for Jamaica.
A village is responsible for me being here today.
I ran for all of you:
For my village.
For my mother.
Credit: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce