Monday, October 31, 2016

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Carmelita “The Jet” Jeter

Earlier this month, I had an awesome opportunity to meet three-time Olympic medalist and the world’s fastest runner, Carmelita “The Jet” Jeter

ColorComm, a networking community for women of color in the communications field, hosted its “LA: Members & Friends Fitness Event” at the David Barton gym in West L.A. With a handful of fabulous ladies in attendance, it was a Saturday morning affair filled with a very grueling, very intense workout — and also a very inspiring, very uplifting speech by Jeter, pictured below, in the middle.

Jeter, who exudes so much charisma, was like an open book, sharing everything from how she first started running in high school to her long, exciting journey to the 2012 Olympics.

I was so inspired by her story that afterwards, I reached out to her for an interview, to which she graciously agreed. We literally talked about everything — from what’s going on in her head when she’s running a race, to the most challenging aspect of being a professional athlete and of course, her favorite place to frequent in Los Angeles.

Check out my full conversation with her below!

WilsonsGuide: Can you share how you first began to run professionally?
Jeter: I didn’t start running track until I was 14. I was a freshman in high school. I went to college at Cal State Dominguez Hills and I ran track there. But I didn’t actually start running professionally until about two years after I graduated from college.

WilsonsGuide: How did you know that you wanted to make the jump to do it professionally – what sparked that interest?
Jeter: In 2004, I made the Olympic trials. I was still in college when I was at the trials and watching all these professional women. They’re endorsed, they have their big deals and they have their coaches. I was there with my coach from college, and I just had on some little Nike shorts and a Nike sports bra. But watching them behave as professionals – that’s what really made me want to do it. Watching from the outside looking in, watching these women and these men take their job so serious.

WilsonsGuide: What are some of the first steps you have to take in order to launch a professional career?
Jeter: You have to really work hard. It’s not going to come easy to be a professional. You have to race. You have to compete. You have to run good times. Then, once you run those good times, you’ll get the attention of an agent. Once you get that attention, the agents will start coming to you, asking you who you want to sign with, who do you train with. So many doors open up once you run what they say's a good time.

You have to really sacrifice and train your butt off to take it to that level — to even get someone’s attention. You have to take this as a professional. This can’t just be a hobby. You can’t just “do me” or it’s something, “I do on the side.” If you really want to be a professional and you want to get that contract with Nike or Adidas or whoever you feel is the brand you want to go to, you have to take it as a full-fledged profession.

WilsonsGuide: You mentioned having to train and make sacrifices. In your opinion, what's the most challenging part about being a professional athlete?
Jeter: I think the hardest part is realizing that you can’t live the life of a regular person. You have to understand that your body is like a Ferrari. And some people learn the hard way; they try to put 87 in that Ferrari [laughs] and that Ferrari starts breaking down. I didn’t make the 2008 Olympic team because I learned the hard way, and that was knowing that I can’t do all the same things that my regular friends were doing. I can’t hang out until 2’o’clock in the morning. I can’t drink. I can’t do a lot of things that an average working person can do, because my body is like a Ferrari.

WilsonsGuide: On that note, for someone who might want to pursue a professional career, is that the advice that you would give them — that it’s going to take a lot of sacrifices — or are there other words of wisdom you would provide?
Jeter: My advice would be to really sit and ask yourself: “is this really what I want to do?” And my advice is, if you’re not going to do it all the way, you might as well not do it. If this is going to be one foot in the door, one foot out the door, you’re wasting your time. This is a profession [where] you have to just jump and hope that your wings fly. You have to give it your all, if you want a good outcome. Many times, people aren’t willing to jump off the ledge; they’re kind of like “Wait. But hold me. Somebody hold me.” And to be a professional athlete, you have to believe in yourself so much that you’re willing to fall.

WilsonsGuide: When you’re in a major race such as the Olympics, what thoughts are going in your head? What are you feeling when you’re in that moment, running on the track?
Jeter: When I’m running on the track, I don’t think. You’ll lose a race from thinking, because you’re thinking too much. So when that gun clicks, there isn’t any thought process happening. My only objective is to get to the finish line.

Now, before that gun clicks, I’m thinking: you need to execute — you’ve trained. The hardest part is over. Racing is the easy part; training is the hard part. Training is the blood, sweat and tears. The crying, the body’s sore, the wanting to give up. That’s the hard part. I love to compete, because that’s the easy part. That’s ten seconds. And in those ten seconds, you better get the job done.

My mindset is you’re either prepared, or you’re not prepared. And, you know that you’re not prepared before you even get to the line. If you’re prepared, there’s no fear going to that line because you already know what to expect. You already know what to do. I always tell people the hardest part of my job was training, not racing. 

WilsonsGuide: Having won three Olympic medals, is there one that holds the most significance to you?
Jeter: Out of my London medals, they were all special because I dedicated London to my aunt Brenda Washington who passed away from breast cancer.

Now I have a lot of medals. I’ve been in a lot of world championships and the medal that showed my heart — it showed my determination, it showed my drive — was in 2013. I won a bronze medal on a torn quad. It was a bronze medal, but that medal is like platinum to me. That medal just showed my gift. It showed what God had given me, and it wasn’t necessarily my athleticism. He gave me so much fight. He gave me so much drive. And that medal shows all of that. It shows what people say: hard work pays off. It shows keeping your faith. It shows beast mode. It shows “get the job done.” That medal shows every hashtag that can be said. That’s what that medal shows because when I crossed that finish line, I had nothing left. When people say “give it your all,” I was so depleted that they had to carry me off. They had to help me put my clothes on. I had nothing else. That medal means the most to me in that aspect because I really showed everyone what heart looks like.

WilsonsGuide: That's an incredible story. How many medals have you won?
Jeter:  I have about 13 or 14 medals.

WilsonsGuide: You mentioned that you participated in a couple of different world championships and I was reading that you were in London, Shanghai, Osaka...Is there one city you’ve enjoyed visiting the most?
Jeter: I love Monaco! My coach John Smith would be based in Monaco for two weeks, so I would get a chance to basically stay in Monaco for three weeks. Monaco had a race that I would run every year, so I would run the track meet and then I would stay there two weeks after. I got a chance to shop. I got a chance to go to the casino. It was kind of like the JAY Z “Big Pimpin’” video. Monaco has to be the best place.

WilsonsGuide: I’ll have to add that to my list of places to see, because I haven’t been! You’ve accomplished a ton of “firsts” in your career and broken a lot of records and barriers within sports. I’m curious — is there anything else that you want to accomplish within your career?
Jeter: There’s so many things I want to accomplish. I’m like a kid in the candy store that you gave $3 to and they have to figure out how they can get all the candy they want for $3.

I want to break barriers. I’m all about breaking barriers. I broke barriers as being the 32-year-old with three medals and a world record. I broke barriers by running 10:64 at a late age. The barriers that I want to break now; I want to get into the combine. I want to be the first woman sprint speed coach. I want a team to pick me up and let me make their guys fast. That’s what I want. I want to break that barrier. I want to get into that NFL barrier.

WilsonsGuide: I remember on Saturday [at the ColorComm event], you mentioned how you are involved in the community. Can you share more about what social causes you’re most passionate about?
Jeter: I’m most passionate about breast cancer causes and that’s because I lost my aunt in 2012 to breast cancer. I’m passionate because it hit home. I’m passionate because it pretty much did a number on my family. I’m so passionate because that’s the way that we keep her spirit going. She’s physically not here, but I know every time that I do an event and I’m speaking about her, she can look down and smile. It keeps her alive. It keeps her here. And it let’s other people know, yes, I’m a professional athlete, but hey, I cry just like you. I’ve gone through pain just like you. It shows people that athletes are human. 

WilsonsGuide: My last question — do you have a favorite place to hang out or eat in Los Angeles, especially being a native Angeleno?
Jeter: I love going to Crustacean, and I actually like going there for lunch. I don’t even like going for dinner. I love going there for lunch and eating and having a cocktail.

Now for just food-wise, because they don’t sell liquor [laughs]…I love going to this place called My Two Cents. I love My Two Cents. They have shrimp & grits. They have this cake called Crack Cake. I love the atmosphere. I love how when you walk in, they’re greeting you. They’re screaming pretty much as soon as you open the door. I love how the tables — people can sit with you that you don’t even know. It just allows people for a second to put their phone down and actually hold conversations with other people. I love that energy. I do wish they did sell some type of over 21 beverage [laughs]. They don’t, but I still love the energy, I love the food. It’s just a taste of soul. My Two Cents has to the be the spot for me to go sit and eat and just enjoy myself.

WilsonsGuide: Thank you — is there anything else that you want to add or share?
Jeter: We pretty much touched on everything.

WilsonsGuide: We covered a lot, definitely!
Jeter: One thing that we’re doing as a family — my family is very tight-knit — right now, we’re starting a family catering business called Urban Soul Catering. It’s my mom, it’s my older brother, it’s my younger brother, it’s myself and my dad.

Yes, we have soul food, but then we have soul food with a twist. We have these tacos: a mac ’n’ cheese and chicken taco, and a greens and pot roast taco, with shredded pot roast. We’re trying to do something different. We’re trying to bring a twist to soul food. Our tacos have been a hit. People love our tacos.

That’s what we’re trying to come into 2017 with, swinging. We’re trying to really broaden our urban soul food catering and get it out there and being that it’s so family, we hope people are attracted to that. I feel like nowadays, the family aspect is disappearing. It’s a lot of “me, myself and I.” It’s a lot of “I’m at the top and I’m not bringing anybody with me.” It’s a lot of selfishness going on in this world. We want to bring that whole family aspect back. That if you get up, you bring the next person up. Many times, people forget that your "likes" aren't going to dip to help somebody and that’s what we want to bring back with the urban soul food catering. It’s hey, this is family. We’re doing it — mom, dad, brother, sister, auntie, she comes and helps. It’s a family affair. That’s really what I’m putting a lot of my heart and soul into right now, Urban Soul Catering.

**This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for ease of readability.

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