There was a shocked silence in the Boulder, Colo., coffee shop when the news of FloJo’s death came over the radio. I was sitting with a bunch of women athletes,all in our late
30s or 40s, and word that the World’s Fastest Woman — Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner — had died of a heart seizure left everyone stunned. The death of a friend, which is what she’d become to us through her track and media appearances, is always tragic. But losing FloJo, who was seemingly the very picture of athletic fitness, at the age of 38 was simply shocking.
We admired FloJo for her unprecedented physical prowess. She led the way for other female athletes by showing that one could be a great runner without having to pretend to be a “little man.” When I first saw her at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, she looked like no female athlete I’d ever seen before. Not only was she fast — she took home the silver medal — but pretty, too.
What she taught us through her grace, self-confidence and sense of style was that you could be a world-class athlete and still be a woman. In fact, she was one of the first runners to recognize the benefits of weight lifting. Her strong upper body helped propel her to victory, and inspired the rest of us who dared breach the walls of male-dominated weight rooms. (Her muscular physique also prompted rumors of steroid use, although FloJo never failed a drug test.)
By the time she won three gold medals (and a silver) in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, FloJo was arguably the best-known female track star in the world. She was also the first American woman to win four medals in one Olympics. The fact that her world records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes (10.49 seconds and 21.34 seconds) still stand a decade later provides indisputable proof that FloJo wasn’t just another pretty face. She was a woman with incredible determination.
“When I saw the time, I couldn’t believe it,” she told Sports Illustrated when she broke the 100-meter record. “But the 10.60 had made me realize I could get into the 10.50s. It made me realize if I kept concentrating, I could go faster.”
In recent years, we were all inspired by her determination to make a comeback. Her awesome strength, endurance and personal drive made us think she might be the one to finally break the age-40 barrier in track competition. After all, she’d pulled herself out of a rough Watts neighborhood, graduated from UCLA, gone on to become an Olympic track star, apparel designer, author, founder of the Florence Griffith Joyner Youth Foundation and mother of a daughter, now 7 years old. FloJo was a constant reminder to those of us who follow unorthodox paths in life that dreams can be achieved and that goals, however far-reaching, are within our grasp.
Tags: athlete, fitness, rumors