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The fastest woman alive: A look back at Carmelita “The Jet” Jeter’s career and charity

Though retired, the three-time Olympic medalist continues to give back and spread her knowledge.

Carmelita “The Jet” Jeter, also known as “the fastest woman alive,” has had a career that keeps on giving. Having lent a hand to many foundations and organization she setup her very own “The Team Jet Track Clinic” to help better a path for kids ranging from 5-17.

Carmelita "The Jet" Jeter
Carmelita “The Jet” Jeter (courtesy photo)

Growing up in southern California Jeter wasn’t in a track club, having only done what was available in high school, and only played basketball in her yard outside of school. Understanding that access to things like this isn’t easy for kids who grew up like her is why she set up shop. Prior, she helped with “After School All Stars” a program where many celebrities and athletes like Kobe Bryant help broaden the horizons for low-income students.

While receiving compliments from parents about her clinic its not only because she’s teaching them health, fitness and track tips, she serves as a life role model to those children. She preaches the importance of making school a priority and having a plan “B” as well as a plan “C” in life. Along with that she shares the many lessons she’s learned from her personal life so they can learn from her experiences.

Because when it came to her life “it wasn’t the yellow brick road,” Jeter said.

The reason why this program runs so deep with Jeter was because it all started with a bigger picture. And that was to support her aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. With the help of Nike Jeter set a trend sporting hot pink spikes on the kicks she raced with in efforts to support breast cancer research. Even after the passing of her aunt in 2012, she continued to advocate for the cause amongst African American women and became an ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Los Angeles.

It was “based off love and the loss of someone,” Jeter said of her clinic. It wasn’t just about track.

Finding her passion with running

Growing up in house where her father had a basketball court in the yard and even painted a three point and free throw line her father’s house was quite the destination on Saturday nights. In her neighborhood it was the place to be to have fun and stay out of trouble.

Continuing with basketball she played in high school and that’s when her freshmen coach noticed how fast she was. Coach recommended she join track. At first hesitant, she figured to give it a try. Arriving to track with cornrows and high tops when she ran all eyes noticed her blazing speed. She began to love it and saw it as a sport where she can get more attention from her father as her brothers all played basketball including Eugene who went on to play professionally.

“I liked the fact that I did something else,” Jeter said.

While she had the talent and was receiving college offers she began to notice that academics were holding her back from opportunities. With a GPA slightly above 2.0 and barely passing the ACT she didn’t get the scholarships she felt she deserved but caught a break on a five-year scholarship at California State University.

“I didn’t take the classroom seriously,” Jeter said of her mentality then.

When she found out that grades could have her ineligible to compete and that she could lose her scholarship that set off a light bulb in her head. Having made an Olympic trial in 2004 she made sure her grades were up to par to compete.

“Every life lesson I learned came from things I did. [It helped me] push and want to do better,” Jeter said.

Becoming “The Jet”

She become an icon on the Dominguez Hills track and field squad as the school’s first U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier and would graduate from the university with a degree in physical education. Making a named for herself in high school and college the name “Carmelita Jeter” spoke volumes. But when it came to the pro’s she made a named for herself as “The Jet.”

“Everybody started calling me that,” Jeter said.

And it stuck because she became the third fastest woman in history in 2009 after setting a championships record clocking a 10.67 on the 100 meter. An accomplishment that came after what she called a failure when she receive a bronze during the 2009 World Championships when she was the favorite to win.

“I was running off of anger, pain, frustration,” Jeter said. 

But when she finished the race she was as emotional as can be.

“I cried, I screamed. Rolled around, kicked my feet. I was very proud of myself,” Jeter said.

Through that performance she learned a valuable lesson that she continues to tell others to this day.

“Its okay to fail,” Jeter said. “Everything comes out of failure just make sure you learn from it.”

What it takes to be a “great” professional athlete

“To be great it has to become your lifestyle,” she said. “You have to be a student at all times...Its not easy, it was harder to stay number one than to get there.”

Part of her lifestyle included a pre-performance ritual she did to make sure she was at her best by the time she lined up. This included having oatmeal, bacon, sausage and potatoes to make sure her stomach wouldn’t be empty. She also watched Mike Tyson’s documentary to give her an edge when she lined up.

“So much truth to it,” she said of the documentary that motivated her.

While she’s received many awards throughout her career including the 2012 Los Angeles Sports Woman of the Year, her favorite was being a recipient of the Jesse Owens Award which is the highest accolade in the sport, given by USA Track & Field to the outstanding U.S. female track and field athlete.

Given an award named after an iconic African American hero in athletics was a proud moment, Jeter said.

“That man was amazing and to have my name on a plaque with his name, it was like ‘mom,  I made it,'” Jeter said. “My highest honor.”

What Now?

This past November Jeter has officially retired from track and field. She’s currently in the process of writing a book that will reveal her experiences.

As of lately, she’s been busy continuing to give back to the community. Whether it was a toy drive in Compton where she beat Master P in a foot race or getting ready after her interview for a “tee time” in Los Angels where the track runner with hoop skills will show off her skills on the green in a celebrity golf challenge, “The Jet” is always quick to give back to the community.

By Gino Terrell

This article was originally published in MCXV.

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Gino Terrell is the Director of Content at Hidden Valley Culture Blog/In-Depth section. Terrell covered local artists and reviewed mainstream shows in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area under the Twin Cities Daily Planet (2014-15). He also freelanced for MinnPost and interned at Pioneer Press, KSTP TV (the Minneapolis ABC News Affiliate) and American Public Media Group. He's accumulated over 30 awards from the Associated Collegiate Press, Society of Professional Journalists and National Association of Black Journalists and founded award winning student-magazine Pipers In-Depth at Hamline University (St. Paul, Minnesota). He was once the sports editor for the school newspaper, The Oracle. Follow him on Twitter: @Gin026

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