Chaunté Lowe, born into poverty in California to troubled, dysfunctional parents, both addicted to drugs. Despite this background and a father who spent most of his adult life in prisons, she has achieved the ultimate in the high-jump. She was salvaged by moving in with her grandmother and her embrace of religion. "'I read that part of the Bible where it says that God will be father to the fatherless, and I started talking to him,'" she said of those years. That initial conversation continued throughout her life.
But there's more! Chaunté Lowe has three children, Jasmine, 9, Aurora, 5 (who has Asperger's syndrome), and son M.J., just under 3. She came to the Rio Olympics with the best mark in the world this year of 6 feet, 7 inches in Olympic high jumping. Lowe is one of 10 mothers on Team USA, though she and beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings, who won bronze Wednesday night, are the only moms with three kids. Guess the old saw that pregnancy saps woman's strength isn't true.
Lowe had a 4.0 grade point average at Georgia Tech, Lowe, and earned a degree in economics and finance which she uses as a day trader. Currently, he is working with TD Ameritrade on a program to help athletes with financial literacy after they retire. Lowe is also picking up classes in accounting and financial management. That woman has drive and energy!!
She personifies "grit," a quality popularized by Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania's Duckworth Lab, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In her review of the book in The New York Times, Judith Shulevitz summarizes the meaning of grit: Unlike genius, the notion that talent is born, not made: "Grit . . . is egalitarian, or at least a less class-base indicator of future accomplishment than aptitude. Measurable intelligence owes something to genetic endowment but also depends heavily on environmental inputs, such as the number of words spoken to a child by her caregivers. The development of grit does not rely quite so much on culturally specific prompts. Moreover, grit appears to be a better engine of social mobility." (Italics added.) This innovative concept has caught on like wildfire with the public -- Duckworth's TED talk has been viewed more than 8 million times: her theory can be summed up as follows, talent X effort = skill & skill X effort = achievement. The reviewer says her grandfather understood that effort, in both equations, counts twice; he called grit Sitzfleisch. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, called it the "10,000-hour rule."
Of course there are diverse routes to Olympic stardom. Lowe's sister Olympian, Vashti Cunningham, was born to circumstances that might have predicted her outstanding athleticism. According to USA Today, "She always had the bloodlines to be a world-class athlete: Cunningham's father, Randall, was a successful NFL quarterback, while her brother, also named Randall, has earned All-America honors in the long jump at Southern California. Her mother, Felicity DeJager Cunningham, was a ballerina with the Dance Theater of Harlem."
For aspiring athletes -- and people with dreams of stardom in various fields of endeavor -- it is enlightening and encouraging that there are alternative routes to achieving greatness and recognition. Whether born to parents with unusual talent like Vashti Cunningham or born to parents who struggle to keep their heads above water in life like Chaunté Lowe, with a combination of talent, drive, discipline, luck, mentors, a supportive family member (often a grandmother), and lots and lots of hard, grueling work an Olympic dream or the equivalent in your field of choice can be within your grasp.
By Ruth Nemzoff, Ph.D., Author of Don't Bite Your Tongue and Don't Roll Your Eyes and Ellen Offner, Principal, Offner Consulting, LLC, Health Care Strategy and Program Development