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No Ceilings

Tori Bowie: A letter to athletes 50 years from now

Olympic sprinter says, ‘You have to know what you’re fighting for’

Oh, my gosh, this is hard. Being a black female athlete has been an amazing experience for me. I hope, 50 years down the line, you understand that the only boundaries we have are the ones we set ourselves.

I hope that you continue to fight to be a leader. That’s something that my dad made me promise a long time ago. He’s been in and out of prison his whole life. During my senior year of college, my dad pulled me aside and said to me, “Promise me you’ll always be a leader. I’ve been in a ton of trouble because I was never strong enough to be the leader. I was always the follower.”

He didn’t give me any particular reason for this conversation. Maybe he was afraid because I was leaving Mississippi and would be experiencing a lot of different things in a totally different environment. I think he just wanted to warn me before I left, because he knows what happens. Being a leader, I keep it real simple — do what’s right, recognize no one is perfect and try to make better decisions.

I was at this meet in Boston last month and they didn’t bring me my starting blocks before the race. The rest of the ladies had their starting blocks, and all of a sudden the announcer comes over and says, “You have one more minute!” And I just all of a sudden get in my feelings and say, “No, you’re going to give me more than one more minute!” Raising my voice and things like that. I felt awful afterward. I immediately started apologizing to people. I learned a lot from that experience, and that’s why I can talk about it now, because I don’t want to ever act like that again. I had to learn how to control myself regardless of how I’m feeling in the moment.

The hardest part is being committed and patient and just understanding we’re not going to win every single race. Back in 2014, I tore my hamstring. It was my first year on the circuit, and during that moment I felt like my career was going to be over. I had never had an injury before, but that is when I actually grew as an athlete and became better. I learned how to take care of my body.

I would hope, 50 years from now, you all will continue to fight for equal rights. Something we deal with in my sport now is equal pay — if you compare us to the men, that’s something we’re always going to have to fight for. I do feel that things will continue to get better. I think we’re in the middle of living in the change. I see it. I’m seeing greatness all over the world.

It will never be an easy day. To be successful as an athlete, on any level, requires a ton of time, hard work and dedication. It’s basically like a marriage, something you have to be committed to 100 percent. Fifty years from now, I want you to know there’s going to be amazing days in the sport, and there’s going to be days when you want to quit and give up. But on those days, you have to know your purpose. You have to know what you’re fighting for.