Lashinda Demus: Finishing First
Professional track and field athlete. Wife. Mother. Ranked no.1 in the world in 400 hurdlers. Nike spokeswoman. Impressive? We’d say. But you may have never heard her name, saw her on the front of your morning cereal or spotted her face in a national ad campaign. That ends today. Lashinda Demus is absolutely super heroic. With the will to fight back after the birth of twins that threatened to end her career, Demus deserves all that the spotlight has to offer.
This athletic sensation first touched a track at the tender age of 2. “I’m what you call a track baby”, explains Demus in her perfectly raspy tone. But on this day in Playa del Rey California, Lashinda Demus is far away from the track yet is busy running rampantly behind her twin 3 year olds, Duaine and Dontay, while getting ready for our shoot. She’s awe inspiringly fit with killer arms (which she playfully admits she hates) a la Angela Bassett and THEE longest to die for legs. After ten minutes with her you get the feeling that you’ve known her for years as she politely makes herself at home and takes the pants off of her twin boys as they take off full speed onto the nearby beach. She apologizes for keeping us waiting passionately and hops into the makeup chair with the energy of a teenager getting ready for a night out with friends. She’s simple. No fancy jewels, hair hanging neatly down her back and simple shirt and jeans matching those of her boys. But in her simplicity she demands attention without even noticing it.
Although today she seems perfectly at peace juggling the task of being a mother and a professional athlete, her road to this ease was tough to pave. After securing a scholarship in track and field at University of South Carolina under the direction of coach Curtis Frye, Demus found herself facing expulsion in her sophomore year. It was that experience that helped her to line up her priorities and put track back at the forefront, “it was like a light bulb went off”, she says. With her focus back on her talents, she made the Olympic team in 2004 and officially became a professional athlete, but even in that victory was a stinging reminder of her youthful negligence. “I was leading the whole pack by 50 meters and I get to the last hurdle and trip over it”, explains Lashinda “the whole pack comes and catches me…the 1st person passes me and I’m trying to dig and the 2nd person passed me and now I’m in 3rd, the 4th person comes up and I’m like, “no she’s not taking this from me” and I dived and made the team”. She carried that lesson with her as she failed to medal that year at the games but came back to win a silver medal the next. “I was still young” she says with a chuckle, “I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do”.
But even at her highest point, coming off of silvering at the World Games, in 2007 Lashinda Demus got startling news: she was pregnant. “I wanted to quit” she says, “my mother came out to South Carolina for 2 months, after I gave birth, to just kinda help me get back on my feet. She was literally beating me in the workouts, that was one of the hardest things, I couldn’t run fast, I couldn’t even jog fast in the beginning and I was like there’s NO way I’m coming back but now I run way faster” Demus finishes with a smirk. In that smirk you can see the fight in her. The athlete who can withstand any struggle, whether internal or external. She will never allow herself to be completely beaten, a gift she says all athletes possess. “Perseverance. I haven’t seen one athlete who hasn’t overcome with perseverance. You can be as good as you want but the time that you really count on your talent it fails because you expect it. A true athlete is someone who perseveres and is humble”. It is that humility that endears Demus into our hearts on this day, with all that she’s accomplished she’s shockingly down to earth and warm…especially when her husband shows up to keep an eye on the boys. Her warmth turns to giddiness and the love she shares for him becomes obvious in the very least.
Theirs is not a love story of epic proportion, at least not the way Demus describes it. As with everything she keeps the details leading to their marriage simple. “I didn’t like him at first” she explains, “and then we started talking and then marriage and then comes the baby in the baby carriage” she finishes with a heartfelt laugh. They were introduced by a friend and Demus recalls, “she asked me to show him around because he had never been to California before” and the rest is their now husband/wife/manager/client relationship. It is his love and the love of her mother, Yolanda, who doubles as her coach, that has brought her back better than ever vying for the gold medal in 2011. “I took everybody out that doesn’t have anything to do with my family and my career” says Demus wearing an uncharacteristically serious face, “I don’t want someone who doesn’t know me, doesn’t have my best interest…it’s easier like that”. Within this new familial system, Lashinda finds herself at ease in her business affairs but stresses that nothing beats hard work especially in a business where often time the successes of African American women are overlooked. “I learned in college that we’re at the bottom of the totem pole. That’s what I don’t like about track and field. I’ve done way more than many people and they’re in front of the cameras and that bothers me” she explains, “and most importantly I do positive things…and maybe it is because I am a black woman that they kinda really don’t pay attention to that”.
As we walk closer to the water to let her twin boys play in the waves, it becomes evident that this woman has taken a backseat to the chaos of her life. She’s calm and poised, not easily rattled by the hectic life she’s leading. Nothing seems to even misplace a hair on her head. Not the European meets in everywhere from Berlin to Rome. Not the Monday- Friday workouts or the Saturdays overseas. Not the everyday race of being a mother and a wife and not the expectation looming over her as the 2011 World Championship games creep up on her and she fights for the gold she’s wanted for so long. Lashinda Demus has tapped into the peace of mind and complete confidence that every woman wishes to have. Her kind spirit, talent and desire to be remembered as “a good person, a loving person”, makes her a role model for young women everywhere. And what does she think of her younger competition “I’m not gonna give them time (to catch me), by the time they get there I’m gonna be long gone” .
Written By: Iman Milner
Photography: Ashley B. Nguyen
MUA: Ashley Blaine