Hurdler Lolo Jones doesn’t want her stumble in the 100 meters final at the 2008 Olympics to be the defining moment of her career, and she intends to run the race of her life in London next August. But she has another kind of obstacle course to navigate first. Jones, 29, won a 60-meter hurdles indoor world title in 2010 but also struggled with injuries and chronic sciatica pain on and off in the three seasons following Beijing. She hit an emotional low at this year’s U.S. National Championships when she failed to advance to the final of her event and thus missed making the world team, but began to get some much-needed answers when she was diagnosed with a tethered spinal cord this summer. She underwent microsurgery in August and has been cleared to resume full practices again on Oct. 1. ESPN.com’s Bonnie D. Ford caught up with Jones this week to ask what it’s like to go back to taking baby steps.
Ford: I went back and watched the video of you in the mixed zone at nationals after the semi (where Jones was eliminated), and you were just a ball of frustration and hurt and disappointment. I know it hasn’t been a picnic since then, but how far have you come attitude-wise?
Jones: I definitely was a different person at USA Nationals, because at nationals I didn’t know what was going on. We had no answer to the problem. I knew I was having back pains, and I kept hitting hurdles, but it wasn’t like an all-out injury where I pulled my hamstring and I knew I was injured. We didn’t even know I was injured at that point. I was very frustrated, very bitter. The future looked really doubtful in my eyes. Now that I have a reason, I’ve had surgery; I’m on the path to recovery; there’s definitely hope. I feel lighter, and I’m so motivated and filled with hope and excited. It’s been a bipolar experience.
Ford: Well, all great athletes are control freaks in one way or another, and just to know and have information about what was wrong with you, I’m sure, was a huge relief.
Jones: Just to know exactly what was wrong with me took a huge burden off of everything I was carrying. I was a walking ball of stress. I feel bad for my family and friends who were around me at that time because I just was not a very nice person. They’d be having conversations with me but my whole mind, everything was still focused on, what is going on with my life right now? What is happening? And I had no way to fix it. Now all my efforts and energies are on the path to mend.
Ford: I think everyone assumes that because of your personal backstory and all the things you had to overcome as a young person, that it might be easier for you to deal with something like this. Is that really true?
Jones: My past experiences have definitely helped me overcome these obstacles. What I went through this year was the hardest year of my life. I’ve overcome a lot for sure, and I have a lot more to overcome. It definitely helps having that tough background, but at the same time, it’s like, when am I going to get a break? I don’t want these Lifetime movie stories all the time. I just want -- when am I going to get a Disney story?
Ford: How much more do you think you’ll appreciate what you do for a living when you get back to it?
Jones: I already appreciate it. The moment I came out of surgery and I could no longer walk. I was like, “Wow, I was one of the fastest runners in the world.” That was humbling. It’s the first time in my life I appreciated the fact that I could walk. … I never thought I would be so happy to take 10 steps and not collapse. It’s a mind transformation for sure.
Ford: To have to depend on people is probably hard.
Jones: Very tough for an athlete to depend on people. My sister through it all was [waiting on me] hand and feet. She was there thick and thin. I’m so glad she has two kids. I was like her third kid. We had a situation kind of like the “Bridesmaids” scenes, because of the meds. Can’t go into much more of that! [Laughs] Sister was there for it all. Sister of the year goes to her for sure.