EUGENE, Ore. -- After watching Chaunté Lowe high jump in Times Square during a pre-Olympic Games exhibition, Dick Fosbury remarked, “She’s so buoyant."
Fosbury, the 1968 Olympic high jump champion, was referring to Lowe’s personality, but she also has an exceptional ability to rise through the air using the technique he pioneered.
Lowe, the American record holder, is the prohibitive favorite as women’s high jump qualifying begins Thursday at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field.
“Her outlook is so infectious, she makes you feel good,” said Fosbury, whose “Fosbury Flop” has become the technique of choice for high jumpers. “I am an absolute fan of hers now because she’s so physically fit and she has this spark and this attitude about her that just brightens up your whole day.”
Lowe went from the bright lights, big city of New York to Auburn, Ala., where she opened her season in April with a jump of 6-feet, 6 ¾ inches. That held up as the season-leader until Anna Chicherova of Russia went 6-7 1/2 earlier this month.
Chicherova missed the 2010 season giving birth to a daughter. She then came back to win the 2011 World Championships while Lowe was out following the birth of her second daughter, Aurora, in April 2011.
In March, Lowe prevailed in their head-to-head duel at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul just weeks after setting the American indoor record of 6-7 ½ at the U.S. Championships.
While it has become increasingly more common for female athletes to come back after having a child, it is rare to see mothers of two in competition (not counting American 400-meter hurdler Lashinda Demus, who gave birth to twins).
Lowe and her husband, Mario, a former triple jumper, had daughter, Jasmine, in June 2007. A year later, Lowe won the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials on her way to a sixth-place finish at the Beijing Games.
Lowe was seventh at the 2009 World Championships, then on May 30, 2010, she broke her first American record, surpassing Louise Ritter’s 22-year-old mark with a jump of 6-8¼. She raised that to 6-8 3/4 less than a month later at the U.S. Championships.
Lowe soon was pregnant again, and it wasn’t easier the second time around.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “I don’t know what I was thinking. My husband and I work very hard because we spoil our daughters with love, attention and time. It’s really hard to give the children the attention they need, especially when you’re training hard and trying to fit four years worth of Olympic training into a couple of months.”
Making matters more difficult, Aurora was born with intrauterine growth restrictions.
“She almost didn’t make it here alive,” Lowe said. Aurora was born full term, but weighed only 4 pounds.
“She was very malnourished when she was born, so for the first 10 months, we were feeding her every hour,” said Lowe, who lives in Loganville, Ga. “I was nursing 24 hours around the clock, so it was very hard to fit training in with that. My husband and I would tag team.
“I would stay up all night and he would sleep during the night and take care of her during the day. Now it’s finally mellowed out -- maybe three nights a week she’ll sleep through the night and we absolutely feel like we’ve been on vacation.”
Now Aurora is “doing great,” said her doting mom. “She is just so fat and chunky now, and we’re absolutely elated that she looks so healthy. She’s walking, running, even laughing. She thinks she can talk, but she can’t.”
Lowe said she never had any doubts she would come back after Jasmine was born, but with Aurora, she wondered every single day until she was about 8 months old. When Aurora stopped being sick as much and could keep food down, Lowe started weaning her so she could go to Europe to compete.
“Things have been working out great ever since,” she said.
Since Lowe is no longer nursing, Mario is the parent who gets up in the middle of the night. “He’s Super Dad,” Lowe said. “I feel so bad for him, because when he wakes up in the morning, his eyes are bloodshot, he has the bags that I used to have. I know how he feels, but we’re all doing this as a team. Jasmine is such a big help with her sister. We’re Team Lowe right now.”
While Team Lowe focused on helping Aurora gain weight, Chaunté struggled to lose the pounds she put on during the pregnancy.
“Oh my gosh, it was so hard,” she said. “My first daughter, I gained 15 pounds throughout the whole entire pregnancy.”
Jasmine weighed 7 ½ pounds at birth and Lowe said she weighed less right after having her than she did before she got pregnant.
“This one, I stopped weighing myself at 55 pounds,” Lowe said, “and when she was born, I only lost about 6 pounds, so I was at 175 after she was born, like what is going on?”
Lowe lost almost 50 pounds by tracking her calories, something she had never done before.
“I just started watching what I ate,” said Lowe, a junk food lover. “I got to the point where I’d look at a cookie, and I’d be like, ‘OK, 400 calories.’ Then I’d go on a 2-mile run where my legs are burning, my lungs are burning and I feel like I’m going to pass out … for what? 175 calories? So I would start making my decisions based off of pain. … I’m not eating that cookie.”
Although her abdominal muscles reappeared, she said she is still working on getting back to the shape she was in during the 2010 season.
At 5-foot-9, Lowe is relatively short for a high jumper, but Fosbury said he doesn’t consider that a disadvantage.
“Her form is really good,” he said, “It just matters whether you can get off the ground. She’s got that ability and I think she’s experienced enough and she’s positive enough that as long as she stays healthy, she’ll be very competitive.
“It’s great to see our U.S. women going against the rest of the world.”
With 2008 Olympic silver medalist Blanka Vlasic of Croatia expected to miss the Games with a bacterial disorder, Lowe, Chicherova and fellow Russian Svetlana Shkolina, and defending Olympic champion Tia Hellebaut of Belgium – who had a daughter in 2009 -- are the top threats.
But first, Lowe has to get through the U.S. Trials, where her main competition should come from NCAA champion Brigetta Barrett; four-time Olympian Amy Acuff, who also is coming back after having a daughter, and Inika McPherson. All three have jumped 6-4 ¾ this season.
If the rainy weather continues in Eugene, Lowe will be ready. She competed in Shanghai in a Diamond League meet in May, getting the win despite going only 6-3 ½.
“It was really a test and I felt like I failed miserably,” Lowe said, “but it definitely caused me to come back and work harder. I want to be able to jump very high in any type of conditions.”
Although Lowe still works with Nat Page, who coached her at Georgia Tech, she also seeks guidance from a higher power.
“I get up and I pray every day and I ask God to show me what I need to do today,” Lowe said. “Whatever visualization comes to my mind, that’s what I do. So my workout is never the same twice.
“Some people might think it’s crazy but that’s what I do, and it’s worked very well for me.”
During competition, Lowe plays to the crowd with huge smiles, some dance moves or even a back flip, but she has yet to join the Twitter scene.
“I don’t know how to tweet, so I have my high school buddies trying to help me out,” Lowe said. “I don’t really feel compelled, honestly. I will try to do it, but at the same time I want to make sure I have something to say.
“Maybe during the Olympics that would probably be a good idea.”
She might even lift some people’s spirits.Karen Rosen is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.