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Jon Drummond: Golden in the Face of Adversity
Jon Drummond is a rather unique figure in the world of track and field. A minister often invited to preach at churches around the country, Jon gave his first sermon at the very young age of two. For the past eight years, Jon has been one of the top performing US sprinters, regularly earning a Top 10 ranking as one of this country's best in the 100-meter dash. He's been lead-off runner for the US 4 x 100-meter relay teams that tied a world record and won the gold medal at the 1993 World Championships, won the silver medal in the 1996 Olympic Games, and won the gold medal again in the 1999 World Championships.
What makes Jon's achievements all the more remarkable is the fact that he was born with spina bifida (failure of a fetus's spine to close properly). At birth, his parents were told that he would be intellectually disabled and would never walk. Despite this initial diagnosis—and the fact that Drummond has had three bouts with spinal meningitis (an infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord) since 1986—he continues to be a dominant force in track and field.
Jon Drummond talks about his track and field career and his feelings about how people can best cope with potentially difficult medical conditions.
How did you decide to get into track and field?
My neighbor was the block captain. He saw me running up and down the street and asked me if I wanted to race in a meet. I said yes, and the rest is history.
What's been your greatest accomplishment to date in track and field?
Being a part of the world record 4 x 100-meter relay team. But, I must add that making the US Olympic team for the second time is also right up there.
What track and field events do you regularly compete in, and in which ones will you compete in the Olympics?
I usually compete in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes. In the Olympics, I'll be competing in the 100-meter and the 4 x 100-meter relay team.
Have you trained any differently for this Olympic competition?
No, except that I started my training season earlier due to the short season I had last year as a result of meningitis.
You're known as the "Clown Prince of Track and Field." Why?
It started in 1991 at the World University games. I would make fun of my competitors at the starting line. I would also talk to the fans as if I wasn't in the race. When I won the 200 meters, I realized my shorts had split from front to back, so I turned around to the crowd and showed them the tear. Basically, I bared my butt!
The name really stuck in 1993, when I ran with a comb in my hair. It was completely an accident. When the race was over and we did the post-race interview, the interviewer asked me if the comb was some sort of aerodynamic contraption. I was embarrassed, but I ran with it and replied that Jerry Lewis was the Clown Prince of Comedy, the Globetrotters were the Clown Princes of basketball, and I was the Clown Prince of Track.
Tell us about spina bifida. How much did it limit your physical activity as a child? As a teenager?
I was born with spina bifida, a hole in the base of my spine. They told my mother I wouldn't be able to walk and that I might even be intellectually disabled. When I was a child, my mother was a little apprehensive about rough activities. But over the years she learned to live with the fact that I was a very hyper child who had no intentions of slowing down. She also prayed a lot!
Inasmuch as people say that miracles don't happen, I'm a walking miracle. God has blessed me. Now, I love the excitement of being one of the best in the world and no one can take that from me.
I have been extremely fortunate in that my spina bifida is a mild form, so that I require no medications or special training regimens. I train as any athlete would for a high-intensity, high-visibility race.
What advice would you give to people regarding dealing with difficult medical conditions?
I would try to encourage everyone to trust God and believe in yourself. Don't give up on your dreams or desires. There is no explanation for what or why things happen the way they do, but there is a divine plan and we must have faith to know that all things work together for our own good. There is always someone worse off than you, and your life may be an encouragement for those who seem to have it better than you. So enjoy life to the fullest, regardless of your present circumstances.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
NBC Olympics Web Site
Spina bifida. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/health%5Fand%5Fmedical/disorders/ spina%5Fbifida.htm.