Jamaica’s gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce asserts that track and field is about the collective and not the individual.
Fraser-Pryce reflects on her career in light of her impending retirement in her recent post on the Players’ Tribune entitled ‘For Jamaica.’ She intends to quit the field following her participation in the 2022 World Championships in Oregon.
She highlights that track and field is Jamaican tradition and culture. The sport runs hot in Jamaican blood and is deeply woven into Jamaica’s social fabric so much so that children are taught to conquer hurdles as early as the age of three years old.
As such, Fraser-Pryce annihilated the track for the village that raised her, for the mother that sacrificed for her and most of all, for the Jamaica that beats in her heart.
Jamaica’s ‘Pocket Rocket’ came from humble beginnings. She lived in tenement yards and her mother was a popular albeit unlicensed vendor. Fraser-Pryce would run barefoot everywhere to the point where her mother would scream, “Walk! Stop the running and walk Shelly!”
Having attended Wolmer’s Trust High School for Girls, one of the most prestigious schools in Jamaica, Fraser-Pryce mingled by default with girls from varying socio-economic backgrounds. As a result, she experienced a grave sense of inadequacy.
When she spoke at the South Camp Juvenile Correction and Remand Centre for Girls in 2015, she exposed her vulnerabilities, “I suffered from self-esteem issues because I didn’t have the nice clothes and the nice house and had to take the bus. I wanted to fit in and would make up stories just to be accepted.” Little did Fraser-Pryce know that after she won her first gold-medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the age of 21, making up stories would be ancient history.
This accomplishment prompted Waterhouse residents to paint a vibrant mural of her smiling while holding the Jamaican flag. She is now a symbol of hope and a source of pride for the people of her community and her nation.
Mural of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in Kingston's Waterford neighborhood. Gettys Photo
Certainly, her journey started long before her Olympic breakthrough. She competed in track and field events for the first time at the age of 10. However, it was at the ripe age of 16 that she exhibited her proclivity for sprinting in the 100m at the highly competitive Jamaican School Championships. From that moment onward, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s achievements took on a staggering domino effect.
In the 2009 world championships she seized the 100m world title with a personal best of 10.73 seconds. At the London Olympics in 2012, she became the third woman to repeat as Olympic 100m champion, surpassing her 2008 record at 10.70 seconds. At the 2013 world championships, she won the woman’s 100m final and snatched gold in the 200m with remarkable time of 22.17 seconds. She became the third woman to ever do so.
Indeed, 2013 was the year for Fraser-Pryce. Overflowing with golden success, she was crowned 2013 Woman Athlete of the Year by the International Association of Athletics Foundation. Her milestones then proceeded to pile up as she became the first woman to win three 100m sprint gold medals in the history of world championships. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s victories always appear effortless and so, it may seem as though she has an embedded magnet for gold.
So when, in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, a toe injury hindered her from gold, the world saw her true dedication to her craft. She plucked silver and bronze in the 4x100m relay and the 100m sprint respectively despite her broken toe.
In 2019, she returned to the field with warm muscles after giving birth to her son in 2017. At the world championships that year, she claimed her 4th title in the 100m. Then, at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, held in the summer of 2021 due to the Covid Pandemic, she won a silver medal in the 100m and gold in the 4x100m relay.
As Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce reflects on her career, she admits that the Tokyo Olympics did not unravel the way she’d expected. On 31st July 2021, she was candid yet composed about her defeat on Instagram, “Every time I step on track it’s to win but this time it wasn’t God’s will.”
With her retirement fast-approaching, Fraser-Pryce has not yet vocalized her post-athletics agenda. However, she affirmed what she wants her legacy to be, “When I hang up my spikes I want to know that I inspired other women and girls to go after their dreams.”
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce Gives Back
Over the course of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s career, she has engaged in numerous philanthropic endeavours which demonstrated that athletics meant so much more to her than winning gold and basking in the glory that came with it.
Since February 2010, she has been a UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador for Jamaica and in that same year, she was named Grace Goodwill Ambassador for Peace. On accepting her appointment, Fraser-Pryce said, “Growing up, I had dreams that I thought were out of my reach, dreams of going to the Olympics and to University. Through my work with UNICEF I want to help Jamaican children realize their dreams. I want to help them understand that they have rights and that those rights should be protected. I wanted them to believe that nothing is impossible.”
Fraser-Pryce’s fiery passion for track and field is thus magnified by her just-as-fiery passion for helping children. She flaunts a degree in Child and Adolescent Development from the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica which she earned while training for the London Olympics in 2012. She believes that ‘a solid education must never be compromised by athletic development,’ and she uses these words as the premise of her very own charity organization called the Pocket Rocket Foundation.
Launched in 2013, the Pocket Rocket Foundation has granted full academic scholarships to over 40 student athletes across 18 different sporting arenas. It covers tuition, books, uniforms, travel fees and lunch money. Annual renewals of scholarships are based on academic performance as the Pocket Rocket herself stresses the importance of equilibrium between sport and education for every student athlete.
2019/2020 Scholarship Recipient. Photo/Pocket Rocket Foundation
Her own community of Waterhouse has also benefited from her heart of gold as she ensured that the Fraser-Pryce Resource Centre was stocked with computers so that local children could continue their education despite the limitations levied by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Certainly, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s gold medals are not the definitive estimate of her success. Rather, it is her heart of gold which deems her as truly unstoppable.