Back from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, where she won a silver medal in the two-woman bobsled, UM alumna and track and field legend Lauryn Williams advises students to learn the value of team work.
By Robert C. Jones Jr.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 28, 2014)—Before Lauryn Williams started training to become a bobsledder, her only knowledge of the sport came from the movie Cool Runnings, the 1993 comedy loosely based on the true story of the Jamaican national bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics.
But a chance meeting with a bobsledder at an airport peaked Williams’ interest so much, that the champion Olympic sprinter and University of Miami alumna decided to take up the discipline. Over the next six months she would experience a steep learning curve—along with a few mishaps, such as crashing in her first training run with driver Elana Meyers—enroute to winning a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Games.
“Just because you’re educated you never stop learning,” Williams told a group of students who were honored Thursday evening at the University of Miami’s Black Alumni Society and Woodson Williams Marshall Association 2014 Scholarship Reception. “Being part of a team taught me that I had a lot of room for improvement.”
Her “wolfpack,” the nickname given to the U.S. women’s bobsled team, was a wealth of knowledge and support, teaching her the value of teamwork. “Not being on the same page can cause someone to get hurt,” Williams said in her keynote address at the event, held in UM’s Newman Alumni Center. “I depended on my [bobsled] peers to teach me everything.”
Williams’ “education” on the bobsled track was just one of many lessons she has learned over a lifetime of achievements. She noted that the only white people she ever saw at her inner-city Detroit elementary school were teachers, but when she came to UM, she experienced a melting pot of races. “I never focused on the fact that I was a minority but on what I could be taught and what I could learn,” she said. Her many interactions with UM students of different ethnicities prepared her for the different countries in which she would compete as an athlete.
At Miami, Williams was a nine-time All-American, winning the 2004 NCAA title in the 100-meter dash. She won a silver medal in the event at the 2004 Athens Games, and in the 2012 London Olympics she captured gold as a member of the women’s 4×100-meter relay team, running the anchor leg of a qualifying heat. With her silver medal at Sochi, she is just the fifth person to win medals at both Summer and Winter Olympics.
“A living testament of the fighting Hurricane spirit” is how UM President Donna E. Shalala described her.
Williams showed off her Olympic medals to many of the students at Thursday’s event, where more than $65,000 in scholarships were awarded. Crystal Jackson, a sophomore majoring in nursing who received a Black Alumni Society scholarship, said the award will help defray the cost of her college education and lessen the burden on her parents, who have provided her with substantial financial assistance.
Jackson conducts research with clinical assistant professor of nursing Natalia Villegas, testing the effectiveness of online modules on successful breastfeeding techniques. “I’m the first in my family to go to college,” Jackson said. “Getting this scholarship and hearing Lauryn speak is such an inspiration.”