As she awaits the gunshot, poised at the starting line, Lauryn Williams’ eyes reveal determination, her legs strength. Quick out of the blocks, she pulls away from most competitors, crossing the finish line three-tenths of a second behind first place in the 100-meter dash.
Her mantra on the track: “Hear the gun and run.”
Off the track: helping others.
Measuring 5 feet 3 inches, Williams is more than just one of the fastest women in the world. She remains active in charitable work, raising money for USATF’s (United States of America Track and Field) “Be a Champion” scheme. She also helps needy youth and mentors student-athletes whenever she has free time.
“I just feel like if someone hadn’t seen my potential and reached out to me I might not be where I am today,” Williams said. “So I have to do what I can to have that same impact on other children’s lives.”
Her gentle nature likely took root in her tender upbringing, growing up in suburban Pittsburgh and Detroit with five sisters and two brothers. Yet track and field was in her genes from an early age.
Her mother, Donna Williams, first realized her daughter’s talent at age nine. Lauryn Williams was always speedier than her peers, but the mother took special note when her daughter outran the family dog, Ben. A science museum in Pittsburgh had a holographic representation of the “fastest woman in the world,” Florence Griffith-Joyner, and her father would test her to see if she could outpace it; when she did, the family signed her up to her first athletics club, the Detroit Theaters.
The former Canes’ focus intensified when she joined UM athletics in Fall 2001. While at UM, Williams picked up numerous titles, including U.S. Junior Champion in 2002, Pac Am gold medal in 2003 and NCAA 100-meter champion in 2004.
Her real achievement came when she qualified for the 2004 Olympics, gaining the third fastest time with only the top three qualifying. Williams was “definitely nervous” going to the Olympics at age 20, but as she stepped to the mark nothing went through her mind except “hear the gun and run.” She crossed the line taking a Silver Medal home for the USA.
In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, her fast times and competiveness placed her as a perfect candidate for last leg in the 400 relay. Her second Olympic experience, however, did not go as well as her first. After a battle across the line she ended up fourth in the 100 meters. And then came the relay. The painful run included a baton drop between Torri Edwards and Williams which sparked controversy and critique from every angle. The photos of a distraught Edwards, face buried in her hands, spread across nearly every newspaper. Williams describes the moment as an “unfortunate circumstance,” refusing to cast blame.
Yet in true Williams’ fashion she kept going- picking up the baton and finishing the race, knowing the consequence of disqualification. She put her pride aside and ran to the end ignoring the disappointment felt from her country.
She demonstrates her mantra- “hard work know no limits’’- by continuing to train for the 2012 Olympics in London with long time UM coach Amy Deem. She still carries her Hurricane pride with her, as she works and trains at the university six years after graduation. Deem and Williams have been working together for 10 years now.
“She knows my body best and truly has my best interests at heart. She wants to see me do well,” Williams said of her coach.
Not only has Williams always excelled at sports, she graduated with a finance degree in 2004, which coincidently fit her primary ambition in life: to be smart and earn money.
“Sport allowed me to do this,” she said, her eyes looking toward 2012.
Kathryn Forth may be contacted at email@example.com.