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Hurdler’s rebirth

Demus wins gold at August’s World Championships just two years after giving birth to twins

Posted: September 20, 2009 10:14 p.m.
Updated: September 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

United States hurdler Lashinda Demus competes at the Herculis International Athletics Meeting at the Louis II Stadium on July 28 in Monaco, France. Demus, a hurdles coach at College of the Canyons, has returned to top form following the birth of her twins.

 
Lashinda Demus is the first to tell people there weren’t any shortcuts on the road to becoming the world’s top hurdler.

Demus set school records that still stand at Long Beach Wilson High School, earned a full track scholarship to South Carolina and left early for a chance to compete in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

By 2006, Demus was the world’s top-ranked athlete in the 400-meter hurdles.

Last month, she helped the United States win gold in the 4x400-meter hurdles at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, and she finished second in the 400 hurdles.

But what makes last month’s accomplishments all the more remarkable is what happened after she reached the top of the world rankings three years ago.

“I was at the top of my career at that point,” says Demus, who also coaches the hurdlers for the College of the Canyons track program. “I made the Olympic team in ’04, made the World (Championships) team in ’05 and then I was ranked No. 1 in ’06.

“So I wasn’t really looking to have a child — let alone two.”

The No. 1 ranking was the realization of years of training with her coach and mother, Yolanda.

But the little girl that began running at age 5 in “lollipop races” around the Inglewood neighborhood where she grew up was now a woman faced with a stark reality.

Demus was pregnant with twin boys.

While she says she quickly embraced motherhood, she was scared.

“It’s so funny, because most women in track and field postpone what we’re naturally supposed to do, which is to have kids,” she says. “Because we’re scared of losing our careers, or not being played any more — those things still happen. It’s like you’re gone with the wind, and then the next big thing is there.”

With her mother’s encouragement, help and training, Demus decided she would push herself back in to shape and avoid being swept away by “the next big thing.”

But she had a long road in front of her.

While pregnant, she endured week after week of sitting around and avoiding the Internet because looking at track blogs became too painful.

“I crawled in my little hole for I don’t know how many months,” Demus says.

She would see posts that would question her whereabouts.

And then after a while, there wasn’t anything to read about.

“You know (the track world) totally forgot about me,” Demus says. “Until I came back stronger this year, and running faster than ever — after having twins.”

True to form, Demus persevered and returned to the track in 2008, having shed the 50 pounds she gained before giving birth to her sons Duaine and Dontay in June of 2007.

It wasn’t an easy transition, and there were setbacks along the way.

“Nobody ever told me I was going to have to work hard,” Demus says. “I always knew that I had to work hard if I didn’t want to get beat. There’s no substitute.”

The doctors told Demus to rest for six weeks, but after four weeks she was walking around, and by August 2007, she was jogging again.

“I think I might have come back a little sooner than I was supposed to, because later that year I kind of ran out of gas,” she says.

Danean Hill, a four-time Olympian who also coaches track at College of the Canyons, says Demus’ focus and the example she sets impress Hill as much as her on-the-track accomplishments.

Hill has been friends with Demus’ mother since the two competed on the track together in Amateur Athletic Union competitions, and has watched Lashinda develop as a runner.

“(For Lashinda) to come back after having twins and still being able to run so fast, this was definitely a good year for her,” Hill says.

Demus has spent most of this year proving wrong anyone who may have doubted her comeback.

In addition to her performance at the World Championships, Demus set a personal record earlier this year with a time of 52.63 seconds in the 400 hurdles.

Lindie Kane, COC’s head track coach, says Demus’ accomplishments and comeback story make her a role model for female athletes.

Kane says it’s clear the way runners are impressed by Demus, and while Demus gives plenty of advice, the example she sets with her work ethic is an invaluable teaching tool.

“It’s such an inspiration to have athletes of her caliber, to have them out here and to have them help teach and inspire,” Kane says. “Not only in form and technique, but what it takes to get to the next level.”

Demus says she still has a few more hurdles left for her next level.

Namely, she’s two-hundredths of a second away from the U.S. record in the 400 meters and three-tenths of a second from the world record.

“Those are the two that I’m aiming for,” Demus says. “I still have a few goals left to accomplish.”

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