RIO DE JANEIRO – As a mother of three and a four-time Olympic high jumper, Chaunté Lowe is a champion multitasker.
She celebrated her younger daughter’s first day of kindergarten by telephone from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. At home, Lowe wakes up as early as 4:30 a.m. so she can work out before her kids wake up, then comes home to send them off to school.
Daughters Jasmine, 9, and Aurora, 5, and son M.J., not quite 3, who Lowe said “thinks his name is Superman,” are cheering their Supermom from Florida while she pursues the Olympic medal that has eluded her.
Lowe is one of 10 mothers on Team USA, though she and beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings, who won bronze Wednesday night, are the only moms with three kids.
“I’m extra focused,” said Lowe, 32, who comes into the Rio Games with the best mark in the world this year of 6 feet, 7 inches. “This is the first Olympic Games where I wasn’t a sophomore in college or a mom nursing a 1-year old. This time I put myself to the best advantage, and I think it’s really going to work out well for me.”
Without any kids underfoot, you might think the Olympic village would be a respite. But Lowe, who qualified tied for first earlier Thursday, said the waiting can be nerve-racking.
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“There were people playing handball at 1 a.m. I’m like, ‘OK, I know how to handle this,’” she said, putting her fingers in her ears. “It just comes with experience – finding a way to ride the excitement when it’s time to and stay relaxed when you need to.”
At her first Olympic Games in 2004, Lowe did not advance past the qualifying round, finishing 13th. She then placed sixth at both the Beijing 2008 Games and London 2012 Games.
Lowe set the American record of 6-8 ¾ in 2010 and stayed at or near the top of the U.S. standings. But there were difficulties at home as Aurora had developmental delays and doctors suspected autism or Asperger syndrome.
Lowe and her husband Mario, who came to Rio to support her, moved from their home outside Atlanta to Florida to seek help.
“She was really struggling, head-banging, we were taking her to the ER a lot,” Lowe said. “She has developed so much, and I’m proud to announce that she got kicked out of the special needs program.”
Lowe’s faith helped her through that crisis and also spurred her last September to try for her fourth Olympic team.
“The pastor of my church in Oviedo, Florida made me get up and preach one Sunday,” she said. “I was like, ‘I’m not a preacher, I don’t want to do this.’ In the middle of speaking to the church and telling about my experiences through each Olympic Games, I decided, ‘I’m going for it!’”
Lowe’s church and her family are her support system.
Jasmine gives her massages and the two will dance together – Lowe often shows off her moves after clearing the high jump bar – skate or jump on the trampoline.
Husband Mario “is the one who has to listen to me talk about high jumping 36 hours a day,” Lowe said.
They watch film together and analyze her jumps as well as those of her competitors.
Lowe’s sisters are such huge fans that she said, “Sometimes I have to tone them down a little bit. They are just, ‘My sister’s the greatest in the whole entire world.’ It makes me feel good. Then I have those people – we all know what haters are – but they keep me grounded, so I stay right in the middle.”
Lowe, who graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in economics and finance, is a day trader, which requires a lot of research and analysis. She is working with TD Ameritrade on a program to help athletes with financial literacy after they retire. Lowe is also picking up classes in accounting and financial management.
“I’m passionate about that because it broke me as a person losing everything I worked so hard for,” she said, “and I don’t want to see that happen to anyone.”
Lowe grew up in California with little money and worked full-time in high school while still training and making the honor roll.
“Once I had the opportunity to get money in my hands,” Lowe said, “I spent it very quickly. I went shopping every single week, I bought cars, I bought houses. Then I had my first child and the money stopped flowing. In our sport, your job is your body, and my body was being utilized to grow another person.”
She lost her stream of income while her husband, Mario, was laid off during the recession. They endured the foreclosure of two houses.
“It’s important to talk to younger athletes about the importance of saving for the future,” Lowe said. “If you think things are important now, they’re not when you look at the grand scheme of things and you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to feed your family or put a roof over their heads.”
But while Lowe is contemplating life after track and field, she relishes competing with the younger athletes, although she admitted, “It’s probably a lot easier when you’re young and your joints still move the way that they’re supposed to.”
Lowe will go up against teammate Vashti Cunningham, the 18-year-old who won the world indoor title in March.
“It’s a great blessing to be able to be on top for so long and I’m so excited to see there’s a next generation that’s coming and that this sport won’t be left without a legacy,” Lowe said. “I like to feel that I have had a hand in that. I was able to start early and young and now I’m able to see it all the way through.”