Former Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson reveals how she paid her coach while barely earning enough from working three jobs

Former Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson reveals how she paid her coach while barely earning enough from working three jobs

Mark Kinyanjui 08:00 - 16.04.2024

While still a UCLA student athlete, Harper-Nelson was trained by legendary coach Bobby Kersee, who happened to train other well-off and hurdlers while she had to work three jobs to make ends meet.

2008 Olympic 110m hurdles champion Dawn Harper-Nelson has revealed how she got to pay her legendary coach Bobby Kersee while she could barely earn enough to sustain herself by working three jobs.

Harper-Nelson had to work alongside some established hurdlers, like Joanna Hayes and Michelle Perry.

During her quest for Olympic gold, Harper-Nelson trained alongside Hayes, the 2004 Olympic champion, and Perry, who had dominated the event between 2005 and 2007. 

Despite not having the financial resources that her teammates had, Harper-Nelson remained determined and focused on her goals.

Under normal circumstances though, a coach would not ordinarily do something for free, but Harper-Nelson has sensationally revealed that Kersee  trained her for free knowing she would fulfill her potential one day and pay him back.

“We actually had a conversation and he was like ‘girl, you ain’t gotta worry about that’,” Harper-Nelson said on Justin Gatlin’s Ready Set Go podcast.

“In my mind, I know that he is getting paid by these other hurdlers, so I am the one that is absolutely sandbagging in that sense, and he is like ‘No, I believe in you’.

“‘I know what I see. I will get mine one day, don’t worry about it’, and that again got me into thinking, ‘oh, we working’.

“To have a Bobby Kersee tell you that, that ‘I know what I see in you, I believe in you?’ bad!”

Meanwhile, Harper Nelson has opened up on the challenges she went through, aside from financial before clinching that gold medal.

In addition to financial struggles, Harper-Nelson faced challenges convincing her father of her Olympic aspirations. She recalled a difficult conversation with her father, who questioned her decision to pursue athletics over a traditional career path.

“One of the things I had to do was to have a hard conversation with my dad,” Harper-Nelson said. “‘We sent you to UCLA to get a degree and then edge into the real world.’

"I was like, I don’t want to take your route. I am putting myself into a two-year plan’. I was like, I am okay making sacrifices for these two years and I will chase this dream.”

Despite the hurdles, Harper-Nelson managed to balance her rigorous training schedule with flexible jobs, including serving as an academic coordinator at UCLA, tutoring students, and coaching a friend’s track team.

“You still have to be smart in the jobs you choose,” she said. “I was a tutor, so I had a couple of students that I tutored, once again, there was no set times so it is what works for both our schedules, and then I coached my friend’s team. It was days that I went to practice and also coached on the ground.”

Harper-Nelson also shared details about her living situation during this period, highlighting the sacrifices she made to pursue her Olympic dream.

“If you have no money, you cannot live in a really nice place,” she said. “I stayed in an old frat house that had been converted into community living.

"I would put my food in bins that you wrap your clothes around in and wrap a paper with my name on the top saying ‘please don't eat my food’. It was a doggy dog but I stayed that close to UCLA cause I needed to get to the track easy.”