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More than a medal – One local woman’s journey to track star fame

27 Jul 2012 | Cpl. Sarah Dietz

It’s a moment of clarity. Millions of people are cheering, and she can’t hear a single one. The only thing she hears is a whisper to herself, “God, please guide my feet to run.” She can feel her heart pounding through her chest. She sets, the gun goes off. And then complete silence.

From the desert snow that fell the day she was born in 1982 at Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms, to her status as the world’s fastest woman in 400 meters, DeeDee Trotter has been extraordinary. Like one in seven billion extraordinary.

“My whole life I knew I was fast,” Trotter said. “People saw me running on the court and told me I should do track. I guess it all worked out. I was blessed to be naturally gifted.”

Determined to go to the University of Tennessee, her dream became reality with the help of a track scholarship. Though basketball was her first love, Trotter’s success on the track earned her scholarships. She left basketball behind.

“It was either come up with $30,000 or run track. It wasn’t that difficult a choice,” she said. “My basketball dream had to fade away.”

But the commitment paid off, and her running career accelerated. She went professional during her junior year of college, making her the first woman from the school to do so.

Trotter’s dedication to maximum performance landed her a world championship in 2003 for the 4x400 meter relay.

She went on to compete in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, winning gold in the women’s 4x400 meter relay, and she came in fifth place for the 4,000-meter race.

She became a two-time USA Indoor Champion in 2006 and 2007, defeating top-ranked runner Sanya Richards during the 2007 competition.

That same year, she earned yet another world championship. She was on fire, on top of her game and on top of the world – until 2008.

She suffered a devastating knee injury during the season. While she still attended the 2007 Summer Olympics in Beijing, she didn’t make it to the finals. For Trotter, this was the beginning of a painful downhill slope.

“The knee injury was a setback career-wise,” she said. “So many things started to unfold after that.”

After reconstructive surgery in 2009, Trotter found her inner warrior, donning face paint in her races. She felt the ritual kept her mentally accountable to herself; she didn’t have any option other than to give 100 percent every race. 

“It’s my war paint,” she said. “It means I’ve got to do something. You aren’t going to run with that on your face and not show up. It’s a way to stay motivated, and I wanted to feel inspired.”

Despite her newfound motivation, her body continued to deteriorate. One medical problem after another showed up. She believed it was her body’s natural adjustments to compensate for her hurt knee.

“Three years of working my butt off, and I felt like quitting,” Trotter said. “I felt like my body couldn’t take it. It came to a point, that no matter what I tried, like rehab and therapy, my body was falling apart. Every year I ran, I kept coming up short.”

The injuries were taking their toll. The athlete’s will and determination were weakening.

“If I can’t run and be good at it, I’m not going to do it,” she said. “I can’t be once a great runner and not anymore.”

Trotter decided to give it one more year of effort, one last chance. Throughout this year, she trained hard. She focused and took second place at the Olympic Trials, earning her a spot on the 2012 Olympic team and a ticket to London.

“I changed,” she said. “My personality, demeanor, confidence and spirit were low. That DeeDee is gone. I overcame my entire career crumbling and made the Olympic Team.”

 She said that she feels like her recovery has given birth to many more years of running. But she knows there is little time to celebrate. The Olympic Games are right around the corner, and she needs to prepare for battle.

“The moment of excitement comes and goes,” Trotter said. “Making the team was exciting, but now that we are preparing to race in the Olympics, we got to get back to business.  I’m so in the zone, I can’t focus on being excited.”

Like any elite warrior, Trotter gathered intelligence and learned about her competition. She knows it’s going to be a challenge.

“We’ve been running against each other since 2004,” she said. “It’s been the same group of women. It’s not going to be an easy race, but the old DeeDee is back, and I’m making my spot at the top of the list.”

Even outside of her own performance, Trotter takes athletics and fair competition seriously. She runs an organization called Test Me I’m Clean, which is focused on promoting athletics free of performance-enhancing drugs. Her passion for the cause came when she overheard a man alleging that all competitive runners use such substances.

“I saw the public was starting to stereotype,” Trotter said. “I wanted to defend myself, and I saw kids were taking [performance-enhancing drugs] at an alarming rate.”

To help spread awareness and combat the drug trend, the organization adopted wristbands that bear the organization’s name.

“It’s a way for an athlete to say ‘I’m a pure, clean athlete,’” she said. “It’s not so much about the money, but it’s an outlet for athletes.”

Trotter is also the organization’s spokeswoman, which takes her to schools to talk to kids about the dangers of drugs.

“They need to know there are consequences and to take it seriously,” Trotter said.

In her travels as a speaker, she has run into humorous situations. Her comical and animated personality makes her a natural candidate for talking to kids. She recorded a rap song as a joke because a group of kids laughed at a spontaneous attempt to rap. Now that spoof has become fairly popular with the kids she talks to.

“I am not a real rapper, it’s a comedy reel,” Trotter said. “One of my kids asked me about my rap career and he meant my track career. I felt bad for him because the other kids were making fun of him, so I just played along with it.

“I started rapping ‘Pass the baton, pass the baton,’ and the kids were saying ‘Ayyy’ in the background. They made me make it a free download,” she added.

She started making YouTube videos for the kids, all comical spoofs. She also fields fans’ questions submitted by video comments, such as ones pertaining to her diet and the items on her “bucket list.”

“When I race, I can hear a group of kids singing my song, and every time I hear it, I crack up,” Trotter said. “I plan to put more time into [the organization] when I’m done racing.”

Trotter had been training hard at facilities in Florida in preparation for the Olympic Games and left for London yesterday. You can catch her in action during the 400-meter races scheduled for Aug. 3, 4 and 5.

“It’s been a blessing to be able to run like I used to,” Trotter said. “Once I saw a retirement, now I’m on to many more years of running.”

DeeDee Trotter has been training hard at facilities in Florida in preparation for the Olympic Games. She will compete in the 400-meter races scheduled for Aug. 3, 4 and 5, 2012.

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