Former Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson opens up on working three jobs to make ends meet

Former Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson opens up on working three jobs to make ends meet

Mark Kinyanjui 15:05 - 13.04.2024

Harper-Nelson, who won the 2008 Olympic gold in the 110m hurdles, has weighed up on the pros and cons of having to train with established hurdlers whilst still working three jobs before the tournament.

Former Olympic 110m hurdles champion Dawn Harper-Nelson has opened up on what it was like training for the 2008 edition of the games with limited resources alongside established star hurdlers like Joanna Hayes and Michelle Perry.

Harper-Nelson, who became the first American 100-meter hurdles to ever win gold at an Olympics and medal in the following event (2012) did not have it easy when she made it professional upon winning scholarship terms with the University of California, Los Angeles.

The sprinter faced numerous challenges on her path to becoming an Olympic champion. After turning professional and securing a scholarship with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she had to juggle three jobs to afford her training under the guidance of legendary coach Bobby Kersee.

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.

"Every day we showed up to practice, and they would turn up in their brand new Nike stuff and their brand new BMW and Mercedes vehicles with their names laced on their shoes," Harper-Nelson recalled. 

"I had my old UCLA gear with my old spikes because I did not have any money working three jobs on a hope and a dream."

The competitive atmosphere during training sessions often led to tensions, with Kersee occasionally separating the athletes to maintain discipline.

"The environment got so tense sometimes that Bobby was like, ‘You all cannot train together,’ so he would go two at a time," Harper-Nelson explained.

 "We would warm up and stuff, but he would be like, ‘You all cannot run this set’ because it would turn into a full-on race, and he is like, ‘No one is executing. You did not do anything I told you to do!’"

Despite the challenges, Harper-Nelson was undeterred and determined to push herself to the limit.

"I was not intimidated. I was absolutely clear that I was willing to empty the tank. I need to know how much I have," she said. 

"I had to test myself because I knew that when the time came and the gun went up, I did not want to tell myself, ‘You gave them an edge every day at practice. How can you now believe that you can beat them?’"

Acknowledging the support and guidance she received from her teammates, Harper-Nelson highlighted Perry's willingness to share her knowledge and expertise.

"They were very nice to me with being open with information. I ask questions all the time. I am a student. I had to be a student of the sport, so I was very clear about asking questions," Harper-Nelson said. "I think I asked Michelle a little bit more questions because she was an overthinker."

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