If you are an avid Team USA fan, watched the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and love the movie Cool Runnings, there is a possibility that you know who I am - Lauren Gibbs.
I’m a 2018 Olympic silver medalist in the sport of bobsled and most recently, a 2020 World Champion. For those who have followed me, cheered me on and supported me on my journey in the Olympic space, in one way or another, I thank you!
Winning an Olympic medal at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang was and always will be one of the most memorable and proud moments of my life. But that moment was over in a flash, 3:22.52 to be exact.
I denote the time because I find those three and half minutes of my 36 years on Earth seem to be the only thing some people I meet care about and remember about me. Those three and a half minutes seem to define my worth to my fellow passengers on planes, the people I meet while shopping at the grocery stores and maybe even to some of the people who follow me on social media.
Being an Olympian is great, “why is that an issue”, you ask?
It’s simple. Putting people into one-dimensional boxes is unproductive. Deciding who someone is and their purpose, based on your limited view of their life can be dangerous.
It promotes the “shut up and dribble,” the “stay in your lane,” and one of my personal favorites, the “I don’t follow you to hear about your thoughts” comments that are made about athletes every day. While those examples are infuriating, they are are assumptions and narratives about athletes (especially people of color) that propagate social injustice.
To further explain, I give you an example of a conversation I have often when I meet someone for the first time.
Stranger: “Hey, what sport do you play?”
Stranger: “Like in the Olympics?”
Stranger: “Wow, good for you. Your family must be so proud. I could tell when I saw you walk by, by your physique, that you must be an athlete. You are so strong. People must be afraid of you when you walk into a room. Good for you!” (Then cue them flinching in a seemingly joking manner.)
Good for me? Afraid of me?
The idea that a strong black female walking into a room should invoke fear is demoralizing and feeds into the racial injustice we still see in our country.
The narrative that an athlete’s sole purpose in life is to entertain the public through sport is marginalizing. Only made worse by the fact that the very people who tell athletes what they can and cannot say, what they can and cannot represent and what they can and cannot stand for, seem to be the same people yelling for us to work harder, be better and don’t hold back their “expert” opinions when we fail to be perfect.
My request to our Team USA fans and family, is to see this group of dedicated athletes as more than just our sports. To support our journeys is to be open to who we are as people and not just what we can do on the playing field. To stop placing us into dangerous one-dimensional boxes that don’t allow for growth or opportunity. Allow us to evolve past the lens that attracted you to our journeys in the first place, because being an athlete is something that we do, it is not all that we are.
So, who is Lauren Gibbs beyond the bobsled track? I am college graduate with an Executive MBA. A corporate America survivor who uses my experience in business and elite level athletics to consult with companies of all sizes, on topics such as managerial leadership, organizational culture and the most effective ways to reframe and handle adversity and uncertainty. I am student of life and a believer in the power of civil discourse. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend, and maybe one day I will be a wife and mother. I am strong. I am proud. I am Black, and I ask that you don’t confuse that with violence or use it as a reason to discredit my voice.