by Dawn Ellerbe
“Allow me to reintroduce myself…”- Jay Z
I love this lyric, or line of rap song, or however I am supposed to refer to it.
I’ve seen this quote quite a bit recently on my social media feed from a number of people I follow. I wonder if there is something in the atmosphere that is making us all just a little forgetful.
My name is Dawn Ellerbe. And from now on, this is the only name I will answer to. No more, no less.
Have you ever answered to a name less than you deserve? Or maybe a name laid on you by someone else’s expectations or limitations? I am not sure which is worse, living less than who you are or living someone else’s narrative for your life. My name, my story…no more, no less.
In February, I was invited to participate in the Willie Davenport Olympian Track & Field Clinic, named after Willie Davenport who won gold in the 110m hurdles in the 1968 Olympics. This year was dedicated to that 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City.
To give a little perspective….
These games were the first to be fully broadcast in color and America’s team took full advantage of the spotlight. Al Oerter won his fourth gold in the discus. Dick Fosbury revolutionized the high jump by pioneering the back first technique, dubbed the Fosbury Flop. Bob Beamon set a world record in the long jump; Jim Hines did the same in the 100m, breaking 10 seconds for the first time; and Wyomia Tyus became the first to repeat as a gold medalist on the 100. *
This all came in a year that was one of the most tumultuous in U.S. History. Civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated. The Vietnam war raged on, protests heated up, social activism was on the rise, all leading to one indelible image during the Mexico City Games. In a highly controversial gesture, after Tommie Smith won gold and John Carlos won bronze in the 200m, each raised a black gloved fist in protest on the medal podium. Not only was this a significant time in Olympic History, this Olympics marked a significant time in American History. *
Over 65 Olympians, World Champions, and history makers were invited to attend and importantly, I had a seat among these champions too.
Dawn Ellerbe. Champion…no more, no less.
As each athlete was being introduced, I became more enamored with those around me, in awe of those with whom I shared the stage. As the emcee continued through the introductions, my admiration grew. As he ran through the almost endless list of accolades, I had to continue to pick my jaw up off the floor. On stage with some of the best Olympic Athletes of all time. So many stories, so many legends, so many of the sports heroes.
John Carlos, the 1968 200-meter bronze medalist who unapologetically took a stand for what he believed in, was on stage next to Tommie Smith, the 1968 200-meter gold medalist and the first person to break the 20-second barrier. Together they made an unforgettable statement when they raised their gloved fists in protest during the 1968 awards ceremony.
Seated in the front row was Olympian Bob Beamon who set a world record in the long jump that stood for 23 years, only to be broken by Mike Powell, a two-time Olympic Silver Medalist and world record holder. Both sitting a few seats away from me. Mike Powell’s record still stands. On the same row was Martha Watson, a four-time Olympian who made her first Olympic team just after her high school graduation.
Next to Mike Powell was Kevin Young, who still holds the Olympic and World records in the 400m hurdles that he set in the 1992 Olympic Games.
In the next row was Mac Wilkins, the 1976 Gold Medalist in the discus. Two seats down from me are Kristin Castlin, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist 100-meter hurdles, and Dwight Phillips, the 2004 Olympic champion and 4-time World Champion in the long jump. And right next to me was Sharrieffa Barksdale, 1984 Olympics Hurdler and motivational speaker.
There was so much greatness on the stage that I was surprised it didn’t collapse from the weight of it all. And in the middle of all of these Olympians, Olympic Medalists, World Champions and record holders, there I sat.
I continued to pick my jaw up off the floor as one-by-one, the list of each athlete’s accomplishments, medals and records continued to grow with each new introduction. Then I heard:
“She was first woman to win an NCAA Title in the women’s hammer, was the first women to make the Olympic team in the women’s hammer, a former World and American Record holder, 12-time USATF Champion….”
I was like damn, get it girl! Then I realized my friend was mumbling and poking me out of my day dream, saying “Dawn that’s you!” I was like aww snap…that’s me!
Dawn Ellerbe. Olympian. Champion. Record Breaker…no more, no less.
I don’t say this out of conceit or with an inflated ego, I say this because it was a HUGE reminder, at a time when I needed it most, that I belonged in that space too.
While my time as a track and field athlete ended years ago, the lessons I learned will always be with me. And so should the pride I felt during competition and in winning. As each athlete was called onto the stage, they high-fived each other, proudly stating to one another “Yeah, that’s me!” and stood tall in appreciation of the applause and relished in their recognition.
But…not one athlete shrunk themselves during their introduction, and neither did I.
In no way am I saying this is all there is to me, but it is a big part of who I am. As I reflected on this experience, I wondered how I had forgotten about this woman?
How had I forgotten this amazing woman and who she was? Why was I not content in celebrating her? How had I allowed other people, who have no business doing so, to define my story and tell me who I am? I was not sitting on that stage because I was a spectator to the excellence. I was sitting on that stage too because I am a part of it. I wasn’t sitting there surrounded by greatness, touched by excellence, and overcome with a level of undeniable confidence by accident. I had been invited to be there and I was part of it too. I needed to own my part of history. Olympian, Champion, Pioneer…no more, no less.
I am not sure when I lost that feeling of greatness along the way, but I did. It has been years since I competed at the Olympics and people still remember me as an Olympian, as a Champion, and realize that value. Why on earth would I put so much value on the opinions of those who don’t?
After what I would consider a tough few months where my self-esteem was tested, my efforts and opinions dismissed, my accomplishments overlooked along with a few hard knocks in my personal life…there I sat on stage, reminded of the greatness in me, the history I’ve been a part of and the champion I truly am, in more ways than one.
Dawn Ellerbe. Olympian, Champion, Pioneer. No more, no less.
That realization was indescribable.
I went home to LA after the clinic re-energized. I felt a reconnection to a big part of who I was, and it felt amazing to be in that space again. I felt as if I could conquer the world. Spending time among these larger-than-life personalities who unapologetically claim their places in history, acknowledge their own greatness and are not afraid to tell their stories, was priceless.
Have you ever felt dismissed, excluded, ignored, or undervalued? Has your confidence taken a shot because no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get it right. You may have been passed over for a promotion, excluded from a big project, your input was ignored, people with far less experience are given the spotlight while you have to fight to be a background singer. You look around and realize none of this makes sense.
This can be especially true for women, and those of us who live outside of the size “normal” (whatever that means.) Being a larger woman in weight, size and stature is often a point of conversation and judgement (social bias) before I even open my mouth or have a chance to make my introduction, never mind getting to the actual presentation.
We are all a product of our environments, and I am not only referring to the neighborhood we grew up in, as grown-ups (adults) we have much more control of who we spend our time with and the environment we build for ourselves. If your environment is not positive and supportive, it is very tough not to shrink. If you don’t surround yourself with quality people and experiences, your light can surely dim. And above all, the most important environment is the one that you create inside your head and heart. This is where I want you to continue to remind yourself that you’ve got this, you are making progress, and you are moving forward in whatever project you are working on right now…especially if that project is YOU, the most important of all!
So, allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is Dawn Ellerbe. No more, no less.
And let me remind you of something…you are a giant, my dear…and giants can’t flourish with those who won’t accept them in their entirety.
Remember your name!
All the Best,
Dawn Ellerbe. No more, no less
*Golden Givers-Willie Davenport Olympian Track and Field Clinic, Believe to Achieve. Sport Stars Magazine. SportStarsMag.com
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