Lauryn Williams poses in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 20, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
DALLAS -- The feat of becoming the first American woman to medal in both the Olympic Games and Olympic Winter Games put Lauryn Williams in the spotlight earlier this year.
Last week, a visit to the Dallas Metro YMCA after-school program at Hampton Preparatory School by the four-time Olympian stirred up its own level of excitement. Williams’ appearance was part of the United States Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow program, which spreads the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.
A class of 30 students ranging in age from 5-12 watched video of Williams in action — as a star sprinter on the track and then as a brakeman on the bobsled track.
After inquiring the age of the students she was about to address, Williams relayed that she was 9 when she got her start in track and field. She told the class they were the perfect age to get outside and get involved in a sport.
“I really didn’t like track that much at first,” Williams told them. “Basketball was my favorite, and I also was doing gymnastics, karate and ballroom dancing.”
Success in middle school and especially as a high school state champion convinced her that sprinting was her destiny. It led to a scholarship at the University of Miami.
“My parents always stressed the importance of education and that I make good grades,” she said. “But I had five sisters and two brothers, and it would have been impossible for my family to pay for me to go to college.
“One year at Miami costs $40,000, and because of track and field, I was getting to go for free.”
It was at Miami when Williams leaped into the world-class ranks as a sprinter.
She made big strides her junior year, recording the second-fastest 100-meter time in the world. She credited her improvement to strict dedication to training.
As a 20-year-old, Williams made her first U.S. Olympic Team in 2004 and went on to capture a silver medal in the 100.
Four years later, she finished fourth in the 100 and missed medaling in the 2008 Games in Beijing, but rebounded to take gold as a member of the U.S. 4x100 team in 2012 in London.
That could have been a fitting end of Olympic accomplishments for the 5-foot-2 Pennsylvania-born athlete.
But encouraged by a fateful conversation with a bobsled athlete, Williams went on a website and signed up for the new sport. Six months later, she made the U.S. Olympic Team for Sochi and ultimately won Olympic silver along with pilot Elana Meyers.
“Living in Florida, I knew nothing about bobsled, so it really was a ‘If you dream it, it can be real’ thing,” Williams said. “I learned a lot about the importance of working as a team and communicating with others.”
Williams told the class her role in the bobsled was that of the engine. The faster she can run and push at the start, the faster the sled can go on the course.
“Of all my Olympic Games, Sochi is my favorite,” she said. “The medal was kind of a surprise to me. And I met so many different people.”
Thanks to athletic competition, Williams said she has visited over 30 countries.
Perhaps the highlight for the students was Williams passing around her Olympic medals to the class. She pulled them out of a bag, producing oohhs and aahhs from the students.
Williams needed only 3 ½ years for an undergraduate finance degree at Miami and also holds a master’s in business. At 30, she dismissed the thought that there would be a fifth Olympic Games for her, instead hoping to embark on a career as a financial planner for other athletes.
“I thought her talk was inspiring,” said Samyria Piereira, 12, a basketball and volleyball player. “It made me think that at my age, I should be concentrating on the sport that I like the most. I want to make sure that I’m the best I can be.”
After speaking, Williams signed autographs for each member of the class.
Upon receiving an autograph, student Jaydon Isham presented Williams with a drawing in pencil of the Olympic rings. Williams accepted it with a smile.
“I want to do things to help kids,” she said. “It is about giving back. When I was their age I was inspired by others and I hope I can do the same.”
Randy Jennings is a writer from the Dallas area. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.