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Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, The Greatest Sprinter Of All Time, On Ageism And Evolution.

Updated: Aug 21, 2021


By: Ayana Bryant-Weekes

Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, known as one of the greatest sprinters of our time, also known as the “Pocket Rocket” for her petite stature and jet-like speed, is fueled by her faith to perform in excellence as a wife, mother, athlete, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and motivational speaker. We first met the Jamaican sprinter on the international stage at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 at her first Olympic trials at 21 years-old when her youth and perceived inexperience was criticized. Now, at the triumphant conclusion of her 4th Olympic performance at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic games as a 34 year-old wife and mother, the difference for Pryce this time around, is the intention behind her strategy. As a huge fan of the sport, it was an honor to sit down with one of the most decorated female athletes of my generation in an exclusive interview, to discuss ageism, and the evolution of her athletic legacy.

Courtesy of Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce

Now experiencing her career as a wife and mother, at what is considered “old age” in her profession, the ‘Mommy Rocket’ questioned whether or not she would be able to maintain her athletic reputation, and even wondered if the people who told her that starting a family before she "finished track" would slow her down, were right. “When I got pregnant, I was turning 30. I wasn’t too thrilled at the moment. [I thought,] I should have just waited to start a family, that way I would not have wasted the work I've done.” However, when doubts influenced by society's opinions crept in, Pryce's coach reminded her of the infinite possibilities,“ My coach was the first person to look at me and say, ‘Merlene Ottey ran her PB (personal best) in the 200m when she was 36, so you have time!” Pryce holds immense value in having that one person to say ‘you’re strong, you’re fearless, you’re committed, you’re dedicated, you’re a hard worker, and you've got this!’.

“When you’re younger, you’re [kind of] 'freestyling' when it comes to your career. In your 30’s, it’s not that you aren't having fun, but you have no time to waste.”

With the extra encouragement, experience, and determination, Pryce raced to victory at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, which according to NBC Sports, made her the oldest woman, at 32 years old, to win the 100m title, and the first mother to claim a World Title in 24 years. During preparation for her return to track and field, Pryce was amazed at the power of muscle memory and how quickly she adapted to training again, "It was a lot of work but I was surprised at how my body responded like I had never left.” Pryce couldn't help but laugh recalling the physically challenging restart of her career after giving birth,“[For] the first couple of months, everything was shaking!” she laughs, "But, I was able to depend on the work I had done [going] into my pregnancy, and I knew it would all come together soon.”

“If you are good to your body, your body will be good to you. I had to trust [my body] and be patient.”

Following the 2019 World Championships, Pryce hoped to ride that wave of success into the Olympic trials, "It’s always good when you can ride off of the high you get from achieving a goal.” However, like all of us who had been stalled by the Pandemic, Pryce became disappointed but took the initial postponement in stride, “I had to refocus and realign my goals to go beyond the plans that I had. [The pandemic] allowed me more time to make sure that I was ready and that my body was in the best shape that it could be in. It’s like when you're cramming for an exam and the teacher gives more time. You have people who get that extra time and make it count. That's what I was doing, making that time count, making sure that everything was set and ready to go.”

Ahead of Tokyo 2020/2021 and her 4th Olympic appearance, Pryce committed to delivering her best performance, even as she embraced life beyond the arenas, “This is me taking control; going back to track and having my family." In this stage of Pryce’s career, she says, "I’m more intentional, and like my coach would say, I'm more serious. I don’t have time to play any games, so, I’m going to make this happen right now.” Pryce attributes the success of her Olympic return to 3 habits that we can all incorporate into our professional strategies:

  1. Self Care: Take time to process the things that you have done over the last week, or month. Declutter your mind, rest, reflect, and get back to your center.

  2. Become A Student: Know the ins and outs of what you do. You must know what is required of you to get you to the next level. Also, learn yourself; What makes you tick? How is your body working? What more can you do to squeeze out that better performance?

  3. Work Hard: There is absolutely nothing you can achieve unless you put in work. Success is not magic, it requires hard work. You don't get paid for things you don't do and the amount of work you put in, is how you get paid.

Courtesy of Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce

While her ever-growing fan base includes people from every age, race and nation, she finds special joy in connecting with women, particularly working mothers like herself. Raised by a mother who, Pryce says, “...did her best despite not having all the tools...”, one of her main maternal goals is to use what she learned from her mother, and what she knows now, to provide more and be an example for her son. Whether she's endured rough training, or simply feeling overwhelmed, Pryce is always empowered at the thought of her son, ”I had this little boy at home that was going to love me regardless [but,] at the end of the day, I’m trying to make sure he understands when he grows up, that he has control over his life.“

With the level of dedication required to become one of the fastest women in the world, from physical pain, fatigue, and countless hours of training, to simultaneously raising a child and being part of a family, for Pryce, it was important to go back to the fundamentals, and remember why she started; to remind young girls and late-starters that YOU get to decide. “I'm from a poor community, I didn't have a lot of things growing up, but here I am today! I just decided that I’m going to do this. I don’t care what you think or what you believe."

You too can have success, understand that where you are right now is temporary. God already created you for greatness. He already planted the seed that you need to experience the other side of life.”

There’s no way to separate the Jamaican sprinter's iconic athletic accomplishments from her sunny personality when her infectious finish line celebrations display the same joyful spirit that shines through all of her endeavors. In addition to her athletic accolades and family victories, Pryce is a dedicated community builder, providing resources and opportunities to young people all across her native Jamaica. “My greatest inspiration is coming from an inner-city where so many young girls look up to me. There are so many girls in my community that need someone to inspire them to be great, and remind them that [neither] their environment [nor] their present circumstances can define their future successes.”

Pryce’s legacy of accomplishing greatness at any time, in any place, at any age, has helped elevate Jamaican, and female athletes on an international scale, a responsibility that may scare off many, but is just the motivation Pryce needs, “There's no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. I love what I do, so I’m not going to fear anything. I’m going to step to the line as a 34 year old mother, and wife, ready to meet at the finish line. Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.”

All photos Courtesy of Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce

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