The life of athletes is one of dedication and extreme focus, mentally and physically. They focus on a number of areas to be successful - breaking records, obtaining metals, and establishing their legacy. With the Olympics™ days away, we chatted with sprinter and three time Olympic medallist, Carmelita Jeter.
ATHLEISURE MAG: We know that your athletic career started in high school but what made you want to be a sprinter?
CARMELITA JETER: In the 9th grade, my basketball coach said that I needed to stay in shape and so I went on the track team to do that – it was my only objective. Then I ended up being good and like any person, when you realize that you are good at something – you decide to stick with it. I’m not saying that I wasn’t good at basketball – I was. I just loved the individualism of track and that you took all the credit and all the blame. I feel that the sport builds a lot of character as you have to push, sacrifice, and train harder. It’s not a sport where 4 other people can save you. Starting as late as I did, people thought that I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. I think that by starting later on, it assisted me in not burning out. I was fresher in the mind.
AM: How was it like when you prepared for your first Olympic appearance and how was it when you were doing so for the games in Rio?
CJ: The first Olympics™ in 2012 – I was coming off of so many great years! In 2009, I ran a 10.64 which made me the second fastest woman ever and the fastest woman alive. I didn’t lose a lot of races that year. In 2010, I came off excelling as well and won a Diamond League Trophy. In 2011 it was World Championships and I won the 100 meters and took 2nd in the 200 and won gold in the 4x100m.
So I had all these great years going into 2012. The momentum was, “ok you’re hot right now” and what are you going to do to stay hot? I was going into the Olympics, doing all of these cover shoots, interviews, and at that moment, everyone wanted a piece of Carmelita Jeter.
Unfortunately, in 2012 my aunt who had been diagnosed with cancer in 2009 passed away. This was difficult for me as I was very close to her. I bought my first home down the street from her – who buys a home down the street from their relative unless they are really close? Her passing in March 2012 was really devastating. I didn’t want to run anymore. My approach had changed. I went from being really aggressive and focused to my coach having to call me to make me come to practice. That shows how bad it had gotten as I didn’t want to go. Before she had passed away, I told her that I was going to make the team. I had to check myself and say, “ok are you really going to fail now and not do what you said you would do?” At that moment, I became a monster and you couldn’t stop me – no holds barred and I was going to make the team!
My preparation for 2016 was different as I was 4 years older. I had torn 2 quads and had a quad surgery going into 2016. I had to change how I ate – I went all organic with Nutrifit. I was fortunate enough to have AquaHydrate supply me with bottles of water. I started physical therapy with Evolution PT in Culver City. There were all these things I did adding Pilates with Pilates Platinum in Venice Beach to my equation. This was my Pinky and the Brain – I wanted to stay healthy and it was my only objective. We all know that mentally, I am just a monster. I can run on one leg. I did it in 2013 and tore my quad that year and still got a bronze metal. My heart and mind was never the question. It was whether my body could hold up. After doing so many years of pounding to it – would it hold up? In that aspect, my everything had changed as I needed my body to stay together.
The week before Olympic trials came, my left quad started to aggravate me and I thought, “you have to be kidding me.” It was devastating because you workout so hard and this time it was an emotional workout more than a physical work. Emotionally, I said that you can do this at 36, but my body was like, “I don’t know boo – I don’t know.” I decided not to run because I got an MRI and it said that my tendon was completely inflamed in my quad. My doctor, Dr Frederick (who is also the doctor for the LA Clippers and Wayne Griffin) gave me the doctor and the friend conversation. The first conversation hurt as he was honest. He said, “if you go out there, you'll make it through the first round and the second one. But when you have to really put your foot down on the gas – you might tear this tendon Carmelita and you’ll be back here and we might have to have a surgery.” That was the doctor conversation and then as a friend he said, I know how hard you work and how tough you are – I know you could pull it off but he didn’t want me to mess my body up forever. For him to have that type of conversation with me let me know how much he cared about me beyond being a doctor and he gave me both scenarios.
It was so emotional, but I called my coach and I cried like my best friend had stolen my boyfriend. He wanted me to come to the trials but I was so emotionally messed up that there was no way I could be there. I stayed home and watched the trials and of course I want Team USA to win. I’m such a competitor and patriotic – I just want to go out there and get it. So seeing this new team get selected – I knew this was the new era. A lot of the people that I typically run with didn’t make it or got injured. It was hard to watch that as well – other runners not making it showed me the reality that this was a changing of the guard moment.
AM: When training for meets, what does a typical day look like?
CJ: Right now I am still waking up at 5:30 in the morning, which is the worst thing as I’m not working out – so I just look at the wall. Usually, my schedule is to wake up at 5:30 and to be out the door by 6:15. I’m in the weight room by 6:45. We would train at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, so I would be there from them until about 8am in the morning. That’s lifting weight, power weights, power clinking and then I would drive to UCLA in about 30 minutes and we would start practicing there starting at 9/9:15. I’m out there until about 11/11:30. Then it depended on what I had that day. I would leave practice and go to CryoTherapy (imagine getting into a giant freezer) in LA and then grab food as Nutrifit, would bring my meals every morning so I would have it with me and pop it in the microwave somewhere. I would either head home and relax to get ready for Evolution PT which was about an hour. My day would be done by 1:30/2pm as I tried to keep everything together so that things wouldn’t linger out.
After that I didn’t have anything else to do. I would go to Pilates on Tues night at 8pm – my only day that I did something late. This way I could come home, drink water, and relax. So I couldn’t complain about the schedule.
AM: What was on your playlist during training/working out?
CJ: It always mattered how I felt in the morning. If I woke up and felt the birds were chirping – I’d listen to Maroon 5. I always loved listening to old songs from Aaliyah – something about her voice made me feel calm. If the day was different and I didn’t want to go to practice, I’d have to listen to Jay-Z, Nas, Beyonce, Rihanna. If someone pissed me off – Kanye was always on the playlist and always waiting.
AM: What’s next on your calendar in terms of in the sport and outside of it?
CJ: Right now, I have actually been pretty busy. I’m trying to stick my hand in all kinds of pots! A few days ago I presented an award at the Humanitarian Sports ESPN of the Year Award to one of teams. It was really exciting and my first time doing that and standing up there. It always feels like everyone’s looking at you and judging you to see if you are going to mess up and I was like, “no I’m not!” I really enjoyed that. I have been a professional since 2007 and this year’s ESPY Awards was my first time in attendance! How crazy is that? I’m usually out of the country in July training or competing. So for me to get glammed up and to go – it was a highlight and I’ve always seen it wishing I could be there. Being in the environment and seeing the tribute that they did for Muhammad Ali and hearing his stories that I didn’t know to it’s fullest extent brought tears to my eyes.
I’ve been talking with NBC, and hopefully, I can start commentating with them through the Olympics. I want to do so many things – commentate, do public speaking, talk to athletes, empower women to be freaking amazing and get into acting. I know it’s not easy to do it as like a sport, it’s a craft that you have to focus and dedicate yourself to. I feel that I have the personality to do it. I wouldn’t mind being on a sports panel talking with athletes or a day time show!
I loved that I have been able to get dressed the last couple of days. Many people think that if you’re an athlete you’re just that, but no boo – I clean up VERY well! I’m just excited about so many avenues that I can get into. I really want to be the first woman that can coach in the combine – to coach the guys to run fast in the 40s. I am always trying to set goals to be the best at it. Just like Becky Hammond is the first woman to assistant coach for the Spurs. I want to be the first woman trainer in the combine for sprint. Not just setting it up for football, baseball – I just want to break some barriers. There are so many barriers for women to just smash and I’m just trying to get a bat right now and just go crazy - Lemonade it!
AM: What’s your personal style on the track, when you’re going out, and then for brunch?
CJ: For the track – honestly I never match unless I am doing interviews. As long as it said Nike, I would put it on – it could be burgundy, orange, green. I went to practice as if I was going to work and to get dirty – it was not a fashion show for me. That was my mindset when I got dressed in the morning as half the time I would get dressed in the dark. It was about sportbra, shirt, tights, bag – let’s roll. I had my gear in certain drawers and it was easy to grab. I didn’t put thought in it. Interviews – I was matching from the hats to the socks, in matching Nike.
For red carpet, it matters what the event is – fancy dancy, LA casual etc. If there is a lot of energy and press, I use Noel Smith who has been dressing me for these last two events. I have used her before, but I told I’m really going to need her when I’m truly stepping out. She’s keeping my style as she knows I don’t want to be uncomfortable. I want to be classy and give a little sass.
For brunch, it just matters how I feel that day. I am a vneck and jeans girl. I have 20 – 30 fresh with tags tees on. I will pop one on with a pair of jeans and a blazer and roll. It’s my go to that works with everything. If it’s an event that I have to wear a dress then I will do a flowy dress by BCBG as they always have a number of them that works! For the most part- I’m a vneck/jeans and heel kind of girl.
But it you’re my friend and I don’t care, then I’m going to throw on sweats, a baseball cap, tee-shirt and some high tops and we’re going to eat. It just matters who I’m with.
AM: You have a lot of commitments with friends, family, etc – how do you stay balanced and give yourself the time that you need?
CJ: I just got back from Cancun. I like to take vacations, but I don’t like to be gone for too long so I take a number of short trips. I like to lay on the beach, think, and relax. When I need to just be Carmelita, I like to shop – there’s nothing like a little retail therapy. It can be something small or big but I like to give to myself as I work so hard. I love to be with my family as I love them – we’re like Soul Food. I love the energy and that I don’t have to do interviews or overly smile and play nice. We can talk crazy and it will just stay there and I don’t have to worry about it showing up somewhere. I definitely like people who love ‘Lita (that’s what people call me who know me). I love horseback riding, go carting (I’m a champion) – I love being active and things that have nothing to do with track. When you come into my home, there is nothing in there that lets you know I run track and I like that I can open the door to my house and have that serenity now feel. Now if you go into the garage, that is something different!
Carmelita Jeter Images courtesy of BJ Coleman Entertainment on pages
Read more from the July Issue