Lowe had worked to make her peace with her lack of Olympic medals. “I had the option to write my story as a success or a failure,” she says. “When I was 4 years old, I told my sister I would make it to the Olympics. I’ve competed in four.”
Her personal tale is more striking than that.
She came of age in Paso Robles, Calif., in a family lashed by the storms of addiction. The electricity would get shut off one week, then the water. In sixth grade, she left for a track meet and returned to an empty house. Where, she asked her mother, are my sisters? I sent them to live with their father, her mother replied. Our house is getting foreclosed on.
“Mom saw that our ship was sinking,” Lowe says.
Lowe slept with her mother in cheap motels and in the back seats of cars. (Her father has spent most of his adult life in California’s prisons, also trapped by addictions.) When summer arrived, her mother packed Chaunté off to live with an aunt. “My mother was embracing a camping lifestyle,” Lowe says. “Mom was off the grid.”
Lowe thought a lot about her life and talked a lot with God that summer. In August, she told her mother that she had decided to live with her grandmother in Riverside. She knew she needed stability. As a high school freshman, she told the track coach that she wanted to try the high jump. You have to beat out the juniors and seniors, he told her.
That was that, he figured.
She woke before dawn to practice — a habit she has never lost — and eventually outjumped the best in the nation. She sprinted, triple-jumped, hurdled and scored in the classroom, too. At Georgia Tech, she finished with a 4.0 grade-point average. Her coach there, Nat Page, became a surrogate father. When she married Mario Lowe, Page walked her down the aisle.
“Believe me, I’m his daughter,” she says.
I spent an hour talking with Lowe at the Rio Games last summer and another hour in May after the Eugene competition, and I’m no closer now than I was then to decoding the how of this woman.
She and her husband have a daughter with Asperger’s syndrome. There were two foreclosures, and for a while it seemed the quicksand of family fate was tugging at her ankles. She pulled free. She became a favorite of track crowds, with her high bounding steps and leaps, slithering up, up and over that bar. She lands and bounds to her feet, clapping, smiling, doing a little boogie.
She has a master’s degree and a career in financial planning. Her athletic future holds a question mark for now. She has given thought to the 2020 Games in Tokyo. The body, however, is not an infinitely malleable instrument. She had tortured herself as never before in the four years leading to the Rio Olympics. And still she fell short, taking fourth place.
Now she has her medal. She laughs, taken aback by the power of her obsessions and her life’s voyage. “I’ve graduated college, I’m a decent mother, and my husband and I are on 12 years of marriage and I’ve represented my country with integrity,” she says. “If I allow myself to write my own story, I’m a success.”
That was clear long before she read those Facebook messages last November.
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