On this episode of Circuit of Success, Brett Gilliland interviews Olympic gold medalist Dawn Harper. Dawn talks about her journey to success, from her upbringing in East Saint Louis to her travels around the world. She shares how her family, faith, and coaches Nino Fennoy and Bob Kersee helped her to become the champion she is today. Dawn overcame a career-ending injury in high school and persevered to become a world-class athlete. Hear her inspiring story of hard work and dedication, and how she encourages others to go out and execute their goals without second-guessing themselves.
Brett Gilliland: Uh, welcome to the Circuit of Success. I’m your host, Brett Gilland, and today I’ve got Don Harper Nelson with me. Don, how you doing?
Dawn Harper-Nelson: I’m doing pretty good. This beautiful, beautiful morning. It’s
Brett Gilliland: awesome to have you here. What people probably can’t see on the cameras I know is uh, so we got some, what, what we got here
Dawn Harper-Nelson: in front.
We got the good stuff. We got the good stuff. Um, I brought my Olympic medals with me, my World Championship medals, um, and also my Diamond League trophy. And so, yeah, I always say I love to bring them out. I feel like I did not win them just for me. I literally won them for my country, for everyday people.
And so I love to have people touch them and just be like, that’s heavy. This one’s big. And it’s really cool to see all the different questions and responses. Well, that’s what you got from us. Exactly.
Brett Gilliland: Guys in the office here, like, man, look at that. That’s so cool. So you are a hundred meter hurdle, a hundred meters hurdle.
Uh yes. The gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Mm-hmm. The silver medal in 2012. London Olympics. The 2017 World Championships. First American hurdler to win the gold medal and then a medal. And the next Olympics. Yes sir. 2022 U [00:01:00] ucla, A hall of fame. Who, what? Six time. This is what I couldn’t believe.
Sixth time. I know it’s high school, but six time. Yeah. I h s a state champ. Yes. And one year you didn’t even get to race cuz you blew out your knee. Yeah. Uh, somebody who was on a Wheaties box told me a story about that. We’re gonna talk about it later. Our friend Jackie. Um. And then also Dana Howard.
Mm-hmm. I gotta say, you know what’s up to Dana? Absolutely. She introduced the two of us. Absolutely. And so, uh, happy to be here, but if you can Don, what, what has made you the woman you are today? Cause you don’t just wake up and have all these medals in the air. No. So if you can kind of tell
Dawn Harper-Nelson: us that, what’s that story?
That’s a good question because I always say typically you see in quote unquote the end product. You see me today? Yeah. There’s so much life and so much that went behind that. Oh man. A huge chunk of that is family for me. I am. I am just family. Like if Dawn slash family, like that’s my name, right? Um, growing up, I mean, an example, even when I won the Olympics, the first thing they says, what’s the first thing you wanna do when you go home?
And I said, have [00:02:00] Thanksgiving meal at my Aunt Lassie’s house with my family. Like that is just family for me. I had a pretty good, um, upbringing with my parents. Uh, my parents did get divorced, so that obviously plays a toll on you as a kid. But to be honest, my mother was very strong. And you’re still worth it.
You’re still, you still have worth, yeah. Um, but then being grounded in church, my faith is huge for me. Um, through all the ups and downs, always knew that God had a plan, has a plan. Um, And then just kind of understanding that you’re going to go through ups and downs, and that’s okay. Yeah. But as long as you learn from them, you always have your family that backs you, uh, just go out there and give, just, just just give it everything you have.
And so it’s just such a loaded, but yeah. Do you,
Brett Gilliland: and I mean, even anybody can say that, right? Mm-hmm. Given everything you have, obviously you gotta have some God given talents. Absolutely. We were joking about racing in the parking lot, right? Obviously you’re still kicking my butt, but, uh, but, but what was it about you that.
Said, okay. I, I may be just a little bit [00:03:00] different than that girl next to me. Mm-hmm. But would you say it’s more physical or more mental? Um,
Dawn Harper-Nelson: the mental is, I think was the bigger part of it, right. Physical. You just gotta have some, some in the tank, right? I mean, it’s just got a little bit of genetics that you know there.
But I think when I said, give everything you have for me, what that means is I’m not okay with regrets. I’m not okay with saying, well, I could have, oh, that just boils my blood. And so from a kid, I’ve always been like, no. Um, even though I would go to the state meet and be undefeated, my understanding was always on that day.
It could be anybody’s day. Yeah. And so you have to leave it all out there. So if I do get beat, I, they were better on that day. It was not because I gave them anything. And, um, The funny part is with that, like I said, it just plays into my life because, just jumping ahead just a little bit, literally Jackie joined a Curie.
When I met her, she was very clear in saying, I do not care what. Anyone has done [00:04:00] every single day up until today, on today, you have to beat me. Mm. And so she told me that and I was like, you are so right. And so, you know, that’s just kind of how I feel like I’ve lived in, um, mentally though I, over time I’m a monster.
I have built up to be a monster, especially on the track. I truly believe I can take down any giant that would step on that track beside me. I dunno about you
Brett Gilliland: two. I believe that. Don’t you just already what she’s saying. So I, I’ve had the pleasure of being around Jackie numerous times and, and one of her favorite, my favorite quotes, she says, I didn’t train
Dawn Harper-Nelson: to be second best.
No, I listen because who dies every day. Yeah. Because under Bobby Curie, you die. Every, you question life, you’re like, I’m paying Mike Kirsty, her Husbandly your trainer. Absolutely. Her trainer. My, yes, my coach. You’re like, I’m paying him to kill me. Yeah. That’s literally his job is to go home. Stress, worry.
What does Dawn need, physically, mentally, to get her on top of that podium and every day he found a way to make you feel like, I thought I was ready, but I’m not ready. And so, yeah, I totally agree with that. Gotta break it down to build it back up. [00:05:00] No, literally. And by the time you, you’re built up Bobby’s standards.
No other coaches done waiting, you know, being prepared you to do. No. That’s amazing.
Brett Gilliland: Tell us what you’ve learned. Um, I mean, you traveled the world mm-hmm. When I was doing my research. I mean, it, it seems like you’ve been, like, in every country, ever. It feels like it sometimes. And, uh, so what have you learned about just life mm-hmm.
About the world? Uh, by traveling through the world, through
Dawn Harper-Nelson: sports? Oh my goodness. There’s so much out there. You think, you know, you think you have a way of understanding how life is, and then you step into someone else’s culture. And you’re like, oh, I thought my life was beautiful or I thought these things.
It’s like there’s so many things out there. Yeah. And so just not being stuck in your own bubble, being open to accepting and learning from others, um, experimenting on different foods, right? Yeah. I mean, just, just being someone that wants to just absorb things. Um, I think that I’ve, that’s, that’s kind of big for me, just realizing that beauty is everywhere.
Yeah. And it’s not just how you’ve defined it. It is. It looks many different
Brett Gilliland: ways. [00:06:00] It’s gotta be different, right? I mean, I grew up in a small town. Mm-hmm. You grew up in a small town. What, I mean, what, what would you say coming from East St. Louis? Mm-hmm. And, and there’s so many phenomenal people in East St.
Louis that I think the, the, I was just having this conversation with Dana the other night. It’s like, I don’t think he understands. Mm-hmm. You probably don’t understand either, like, The people you’ve grown up Uhhuh to idolized and walked Uhhuh, like, I didn’t grow up with those people. Right. You start named Dana Howard.
Yeah. Brian Cox, Marco o’ Harris, Gonzo, Martin, all these people. Right? You Jackie Joyner, ey. And the list goes on and on and on. And, and so what was it about you about East St. Louis and expectations that also
Dawn Harper-Nelson: maybe helps? Mm-hmm. That’s exactly right. Expectations. Um, so. In East St. Louis, we say we’re the city of champions.
And from the outside so many people are like, you know, it’s ghetto, it’s all these things. Yeah. But within East St. Louis, the adults that were around me looked at us and said, don’t you dare define yourself that way. Um, coach Nino Feno, who was Jackie Joiners coach, high school coach, and also my high school coach and summer track coach.
Uh, [00:07:00] The things that he would tell us we could do, the way that he spoke life into us and demanded that we believed in ourselves. Sometimes, I mean, we talk about, to this day, we like, he is just tripping. Like there’s no way. He just, why? He just always like, better, better, better. And you’re like, that was pretty good for today.
And it’s like, no, better, better, better. As young women, you gotta go out to the world and you gotta, and it was just like, we get it. I mean, he was always, he was just kind of relentless with it. And so I think that was very helpful when you did finally face. A situation where it was the complete opposite.
You’re like, well, I’ve only heard my whole life of you are, you are, you are. You know, instead of Can you, can you? Yeah. And so that, so they weren’t beating
Brett Gilliland: you down, telling you all the things you did wrong, man. It was a total opposite. Opposite, which is I think a big note for parents, right? Yes. Now parents, you’ve got two kids.
I’ve got four kids. You, they talk about that drive home from the baseball field or the soccer field or whatever, how important that is, right? I think that’s probably a big thing for us to learn is. The I cans.
Dawn Harper-Nelson: Absolutely. And then the speaking into them on the days when you see their shoulders are slumped.
Right. I [00:08:00] mean, where you’re like, it was a huge defeat. Like one where you, like at first they were like, we got this. And then, because it won’t always be perfect. Yeah. The times when you’re driving home and it’s silent and they’re like, if, if I just, I don’t wanna talk right now. Yeah. And you’re like, okay, I’ll give you your moment, but we’re going to address the elephant in the room of this failure that you feel.
And I think just speaking life into, because it’s going to happen again. And when it does, they can fall back on. Man. And even if it, like, they feel like no one else are like my family. Right? Like that’s, my family believes in me. My family never saw when I felt like I was at my worst. My family never saw that part of me.
They only saw the greatest. Yeah. So
Brett Gilliland: do you think that, um, the, the struggles you’ve had mm-hmm. Because I, so I texted Jackie and I said, Hey, I’m, I’m talking to Don Marrow. And uh, I said, what do you think? Right? Yeah. And so she said, Uh, I paraphrase here, but that you had an injury in high school. Yes. That would’ve ended most people’s careers.
Yeah. Okay. Yeah. And so I think that was your sophomore year, right? Yep. So your sophomore year of high school won it your freshman year. Mm-hmm. Sophomore year. Obviously you’re thinking you’re gonna win it. Absolutely. You had this [00:09:00] seasoned career ending. Yep. Injury. What did you learn through that struggle?
Dawn Harper-Nelson: How bad I wanted it. I learned that, uh, because like you said, it was, the thing was like, we don’t know if you’ll ever run as fast again or if you’ll ever be as good. And for me, I was. It. I shocked and devastated. It’s just not heavy enough words to kind of understand how I felt. Because I begin, I started to begin that believe that I had what it took to go to the next level.
And I’m like, you’re telling me that it’s ending here? Um, did they tell you
Brett Gilliland: that, that it was gonna end like you’re
Dawn Harper-Nelson: done? Yeah. They’re like, it’s, yeah. They’re like, it literally, it’s like this is something that people really don’t like for your sport. They’re not, they don’t come back from Mm. And. I’m like, well, you’re 16 year old.
You literally, yes, 16. And what was um, also hard was. That was the, my freshman year in high school was the year that they first merged, um, Lincoln High School in East St. Louis High School. So it was the first time they had, um, was the freshmans that would be, uh, a chance to go to state. So the first time someone could [00:10:00] win four years in a row.
Mm-hmm. So, cuz high school is tens, 11, 12, 3 people have done that. No one’s done four. And so when I won my freshman year, year concert talks about that for
Brett Gilliland: basketball. Oh really? He did it in
Dawn Harper-Nelson: basketball. Yeah. And that’s, Sweet. And so, you know, but you didn’t because they weren’t combined then. Oh. Oh, okay.
Yeah. Okay. Well, huh? No, me neither. No. And so, uh, literally, so my freshman year I broke the state record, uh, a hundred hurdles, three hurdles, and won them both. And it’s like, oh, I’m on my way sophomore year. I’m like, I’m, I’m undefeated. If, if things go well, you’re right on your way. And, uh, when I got the injury, It was just like, I can run through with it, I can still run through this.
Right. But you know, the body’s still the body. Yeah. But you’re still human. Yeah. Like as much as you put in all this hard work and uh, like my physical therapist we went up to, he even went to state with me and my family. Yeah. And I’ll never forget I ran the rounds, but they’re like, her leg is not going to make it through.
Yeah. Or more of these rounds. Cause I had four races and they made the decision in the back of [00:11:00] the truck that we had the truck up, the, uh, truck hood up. And I’m sitting in the back and they tell my parents she, she can’t run, she’s done. And I cried my eyes out and I’m like, just let me, let me do the a hundred hurdles.
So I begged to run the a hundred hurdles and my parents were like, she’s crazy. And I’m looking at the doc like, you know, I can do it. And uh, they let me, And I remember being in the blocks where I couldn’t bend my knee, and when the gun goes off, I’m like, go, girl, go. The way that I lost that race. My mother and father say, you could have sworn that everything was perfect conditions.
And so I cried so hard. It was just like, life is over. And that’s, and, and the thing is, is as an adult you can look back and say like, We, we all know that state meet is not the end of the world. Correct. But the problem is, in that moment though, it feels like exactly in that moment. And that’s why I say when we talk to our kids or we talk to just someone going through something, you can’t look at your life and other things going on.
It’s for that person in that moment, literally I felt like worth, everything was out the window. [00:12:00] Everything, nothing else mattered because life was over. And like I said, in that moment, it made me realize, If I do walk, run again, I will never take this for granted because it was just a little hiccup. I will never, if I ever get a chance to go to college and run, oh my God, I will never, you know.
Um, and I remember the journey of therapy going back. It was, it was almost like you could put on me some rocky music. I was ready. It was long. It was hard. I. Um, but I had a team together like Coach Fanno and my physical therapist, the way that they work together. And my mother bless her little heart, she’s like, whatever they say, do you know, we’re just gonna do, and I was doing extra workouts on my own in our driveway.
Yeah. It was. So I tell a lot of parents, you know how they’re like pushing their kids. Yeah. You’ll know if they want it. Mm. You’ll know if they want. It’s exactly where my mind was going. You wanted it? Yeah. I wanted it [00:13:00] bad. Yeah.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. So failure can go one of two ways. Absolutely. When you get, when you get struck with bad news Yep.
Or a bad thing and business happens. Yep. And people can either cave Yeah. And go get home in the fetal position. Mm-hmm.
Dawn Harper-Nelson: Or you can rise up. Yep. And I, I always say though, take that moment. It, it’s a devastating blow. You know, sometimes people are like, just brush it off and Well, sometimes it’s that hard where you can give yourself a little second cry, be devastated cuz you wanted that, that part you wanted that dream.
It didn’t happen, but it’s not over. My thing is don’t stay there. Yeah. Right.
Brett Gilliland: So solid. Yeah. Um. If I followed you around then and now and, uh, I’m always, I always love people. That got to your level of just the daily habits? Mm-hmm. What am I seeing? Let, let’s, let’s talk now. Mm-hmm. Cause now we’re retired, right?
Yes. We’re done running. Yes. Yes. But what are the daily habits now? But then also if you could think about what were the daily habits when we’re trying to be at the, the peak. Mm-hmm. Right? Mm-hmm. When for our country, what
Dawn Harper-Nelson: redoing. So something that I just feel like my life will forever flow this way. I’m a planner.[00:14:00]
Okay. Like a habit is I, my day it has to flow a certain way. I’m not so much of like something else happened, how do I put that into the 10 o’clock hour? But. If I know that I have these things I’m doing the next day, I’ve already thought of, I’m getting up at this time. I eat at this time, I get dressed by this time.
I’m getting the kids ready at this time, like my clothes are still laid out the day before, even at track practice, my training partners will laugh at me and they’re like, you match every day. And I’m like, well, Nike gives us gear that matches for every day, right? Instead of like, why am I putting a pink with a blue bottom?
It’s like pink and pink, honey. Right? Um, and so that’s kind of how I am with my girls. I’m a planner for them. I plan my husband, he has something to do. I’m like, oh, babe. You know, he’s just like, oh, I didn’t think about that. I’m like, here’s that. Already thought of, um, you know, what you would need for this time.
I am. A, I don’t know. I’m just, I’m a point. But I think that’s the biggest thing, because for me, when it comes to, when it came to trying to be on top of the podium, there are so many things that could fall through the cracks because you’re like, oh, I know tomorrow I have no, no, no. [00:15:00] Yeah, but that’s at three, but you have to be at, you know, by the bus at one 30.
Yeah. So what are you doing before one 30? Because before you do that, that’ll throw off at three o’clock. So that’s, that’s huge for me. And then it helps you relax and breathe, though, if your day is planned, you’re not like, okay, by three, I gotta, no, no. Yeah. It’s already
Brett Gilliland: now, wouldn’t you say that you’ve also, the visuality, you’ve already thought about
Dawn Harper-Nelson: it, right?
Yeah. Thought and reading it out like, so I’m a, I’m a little, I’m a writer, uh, kind of as well, and so. Like I said, the bus leaves by one 30. Yeah. Then I’ve written out, I woke up at nine, I ate by nine 15, I da da da. Yeah. That’s just how I flowed. I think I
Brett Gilliland: always call it in business world, boringly consistent.
Okay. And so, you know, you’d see those journals over here. I got all these journals here. Mm-hmm. I mean, for 15 years I’ve written down my life. Yeah. And I think that’s important for us, whether you’re in the business world or the track world Yes. Or whatever, a parent world. Uh, I think we gotta do that because, um, In our minds when you write it down.
Mm-hmm. It’s kind of like that brain tattoo, right? Yes. It’s already happening. I agree. And it gets you there. And I think too, to your point of the, [00:16:00] the, even the clothes matching mm-hmm. I think there’s an emotion out of there that takes some, some work. Mm-hmm. Some brain power. Yes. The next morning to even think about it, boom.
Put it on. Put it on. Let’s go run.
Dawn Harper-Nelson: Totally. I agree. Don’t have to think. Yeah, totally agree. Totally agree. And then before you know it, you’re like, oh, that one top I thought I was gonna wear is dirty and, and this is, Strictly track related. All of a sudden now you’re five minutes, 10 minutes behind. Well, my race sometimes will go off at nine o’clock at night.
I cannot show up at 9 0 1. I do not have the luxury of getting to the call room at eight 30. No, when I was supposed to be there at 8 25. Right. Whether on the track at eight 30 and like you miss your race. Yeah. So for me, that’s why it comes down to things need to be laid out because I do not have, my race is 12 seconds long.
Yeah. So my brain also operates that way. I don’t have the luxury of being a second off. So I’m
Brett Gilliland: gonna grab this one right here. Absolutely. So the camera can see this. So this is a gold medal? Yes. It’s pretty cool to be holding a gold medal. That’s amazing. Uh, so the Beijing Olympics 2008. Mm-hmm. Walk us through that.
Dawn Harper-Nelson: Oh. Oh wow. Oh, okay. You [00:17:00] went there. Uh, that 12 seconds is chaos. It is, um, Beauty. It’s all the things. So literally, Bobby Kirsi told me in the hurdles we all know, you see it’s carnage can happen. Yeah. Someone’s running. Well hit a hurdle. It just, yeah. So he’s like, I need you to run like a horse with blinders on.
I do not care what happens to your left or your right. I need you to have blinders on because in each round, someone beside me had tripped up and failed. So he’s like, in this finals, it’s going to once again be carnage. And um, I remember setting my blocks and I’m like, Dawn, you gotta go, Dawn, you have to go, Dawn, you gotta go.
And they were in the blocks and like, run is on your mark. And of course that is like when once I get in these blocks, after 12 seconds, I will know my fate. Hm. Like when can you say in 12 seconds, right? You will know your fate and it’s literally all up to you. You’ve done this A million. I’ve been at UCLA and run on that track and run this 12 seconds over and over and [00:18:00] over again.
The only thing that will mess this up is me. That is a very heavy weight. That weight Very heavy. That is very heavy, but oh, do I welcome it because I have trained for this moment. Yeah, moment for years and set. They shoot the gun and you da, it is complete. You, are you, I mean, every muscle is flexed, everything.
And I go over the first hurdle, second hurdle, and by third or fourth hurdle I see, um, dere London from Jamaica. She, her foot is slightly in front of mine and I say, now I’m supposed to have blinders on. Yeah, but you still feel competition. Yeah, sure. And I say, well, you’re not winning. You need to move. You need to work.
Go to work. So that’s what I tell myself. So how fast that brain’s working go to work. And by F five, six, I’m now moving. Now I don’t know what’s going, I can’t see anymore. I’m like, okay, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. When I come off of 10 lean for your life, I lean and by the time I look up to kind of comprehend where I am again.
I don’t like everyone is now on the side of me. Yeah. And so I look over and I see Sally [00:19:00] from Australia. She starts screaming and hollering and jumping. Yeah. And I’m like, I got second. I got second because I knew Okay, it wasn’t eight people in front. I’ve watched the video 10 times. So that’s, yeah. And I’m like, okay.
I got second. I got second. And now Priscilla LOEs from uh, Canada is screaming. I got third now. I’m got third. Cuz they’re hugging and jumping. Right. Like I got third. Oh. I’m on the podium. I don’t ca I’m on the podium, don’t see where I’m at. I am on the podium. And then my training partner, well, uh, American partner, uh, Daou Cherry comes over.
She’s like, no, Dawn. Cause she could tell my reaction was not a first place right. Reaction. And she’s like, no, Dawn, you won. And then that’s when I collapsed in her arms. Yeah. And it’s just like, what do you mean I can’t con I say, what, what, what? Over and over and over again because it is. It’s, it’s unreal.
It’s like, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Because what you’re thinking is, is in this moment, the world, there are so many people in this world that whatever your dream is mm-hmm. You want it so bad you have [00:20:00] cried and prayed like, God, I swear, I swear I’ll never, I swear, oh my God, if I, if I, and he thought this little girl from East St.
Louis with all that winning would come with, he thought that I could handle that. He said, all of your, all of your wants and desires in this moment, you can have it. I could not comprehend that I was the best in the world and it was true. All of the sacrifices. All of the everything. It was just like, my God, I thank you, my God.
I thank you. That’s why I say I will never take it for granted because, and I’m talking about all hopes and dreams not to be on the podium. There are so many people that wanna be a lawyer. Something happened and they couldn’t. I mean, wanted to be married, something happened and they’re not. Yeah. All dream.
My, this dream is they say you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the Olympics. You know, that, that to me that that’s mind blowing. Yeah.
Brett Gilliland: So now they come, they bring this Yes. And they, uh, you’re [00:21:00] standing on the top of the podium. Mm-hmm. They put this bad boy across your neck and they play our national anthem.
Dawn Harper-Nelson: Yep. Tell us about that. Uh, that I will never forget me saying all of my sacrifices not eating Hagen da strawberry ice cream. Oh my goodness. I love that. Ice cream all the times that I didn’t go out or do this and that, and I’m like, it was all worth it. Yeah, because so many times you’re like, oh, was it like, didn’t pan out?
It’s like you still learned the lesson, but it was a tough lesson. Yeah. No one wants to learn that lesson. Right. Um, But no, I didn’t have to learn a lesson. I was like, the lesson is, is that yes, sacrifices, absolutely. They do pay off. Um, and I’m thinking they’re playing. The flag is being, I was praying for this moment.
The flag is being raised. My country is being honored cuz of my effort. This girl from East St. Louis, the city of Champions Yeah. Has put us on the map. Again. We are the city of champions. It [00:22:00] was, yeah. Yeah,
Brett Gilliland: I dunno. Hope if I’ve ever had so many chills in an interview, man, this is amazing. Absolutely amazing.
And so, uh, I think October 6th was,
Dawn Harper-Nelson: uh, named Don Harper. Nelson Day, wasn’t it? That’s weird too. Yes. I Illinois,
Brett Gilliland: October, uh, sixth. Yeah, that’s my son’s birthday. So is it? I’ll have to remember that now. Well, there we go. We’ll celebrate you as well. Um, and so I think when you talk about that, the sacrifice, what I’m always blown away by for Olympic athletes is it’s the time of commitment, right?
Yep. And, and, I mean, all athletes, you gotta be in peak performance. Mm-hmm. And all that stuff. Mm-hmm. But I think an Olympic athlete, you only get to perform for how many heats did you have plus the Olympic run. So you have what, three or four heats? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So what is that, 48 seconds? Exactly.
Literally. Yeah. Literally. So you put it together. So think about that. Mm-hmm. Four years. Mm-hmm. More than four years of work. Yeah. Right. I know what you’re saying. Really. Yeah. Four years of work. Mm-hmm. For 48
Dawn Harper-Nelson: seconds. Yes. And that’s why I’ve, I heard someone say, you know, when you see people like cross a line, they’ve won the middle.
They’re like, why is everyone always crying? And so I’m like, what? Yeah. You don’t [00:23:00] under a life, Lives have been sacrificed. Like all the moments, all the Thanksgivings that I love with my family. I don’t, I didn’t live in Illinois because the best place for me to be would be California to train with Bobby Kersey at ucla.
No other place. All family reunions get togethers. My niece being born. Everything you miss everything. That is what the emotion is. It is, I missed everything. You know what I mean? Like, I did not married, not ki No kids, all these things that a woman, oh, I would love to, not yet, not yet. That’s why we lose it at the finish line.
And guys too, just all the things that they’ve sacrificed as well. So
Brett Gilliland: now let’s, let’s fast forward to today. Okay? And, um, Obviously you’re still in great shape, so, so what are you doing now, uh, to stay mentally and physically in the game? As a mom? Mm-hmm. You’re speaking? Mm-hmm. You’re doing all sorts of stuff now.
What’s, what’s the purpose? What’s
Dawn Harper-Nelson: the plan today? Oh man. The purpose and the plan is to, it is give back. Like it is to continue to grow. But right now I am enjoying giving back. So a huge [00:24:00] part of what I do is my husband, he’s a high school math teacher, but he’s also the head track coach at Belleville West.
So him being the head coach, of course, I’m like, well, I’ll help out a little. And you know, of course I’m not. He’s like, I would never ask you to come every day. But you just find yourself, just show up, falling in love with those raggedy little boys, right? They’re hilarious, they’re crazy. They have all the questions.
And then I’m this female. Yeah, because I’m not Olympic champion at first. When you first come in, you’re Mr. Nelson’s wife. The ones now they know me, but the younger ones, it’s like, who is this? They don’t say it, but like, who? Who’s this chick telling me? Right. Like knees up, toes up, may up something, she may know something.
Okay. Knees up, toes up. And eventually I’m like, okay. And I’m like, don’t say nothing. I tell ’em about me in a second and then the other boy’s like, do you know? I’m like, shh, don’t tell them. And then I’m like, no, let’s go ahead and warm up. Cause I’m about to bust you up. Like you got all the questions you think I don’t know what I’m talking about.
And. So still got it. Awesome. Listen, you got, I have to because every, you still gotta every now and then whoop on some people, right? Because [00:25:00] people wanna erase you and, uh, but no, it is fun because now you get to just all the things that you’ve went through, the times that you cried and you’re like, what is this for God?
When will I ever need this lesson? Yeah. I didn’t ask for that. It’s like, oh, this little. Kids over there crying. And I’m like, okay. And then you talk to ’em, you just see the light bulb go off and they’re like, oh, okay. So that, and then, I mean, I’ve been to a bunch of universities now. I do consulting work with universities, talking with to the athletes, and they’re just like, I.
Thank you. Like, and I’m like, I never thought that this experience could help someone in the way that it has. Yeah. To, like I said, for them to continue to believe in their dream and to go forward. Um, and then I enjoy, I, I enjoy people. Yeah. That is, I’m a people person. Yeah. So, It’s been really nice.
Brett Gilliland: It’s awesome.
Yeah, so awesome. What would you go back and tell yourself, if you could go back to maybe the 2000 and so the Olympics was 2008 and 2012, but what would you tell the 2004, 2005 Don Harper
Dawn Harper-Nelson: Nelson? Um, [00:26:00] okay. I would tell her that your opinion is the only one that matters. Like, yes, you have your support group.
Right. Yeah. But your opinion is the one that matters because in this sport of track and field, it is very much a what have you done for me lately? Yeah. And so what you start to do is warp your, your opinion on, well, this last race. I mean, okay, I did good, but I didn’t do like I won and oh, am I worth this?
Am I, because each race, you’re proving yourself over and over. And if a race doesn’t go well, you feel like absolute crap. And so now the next race, you’re like, I gotta prove, what are you proving after you’ve won? Like you sound, you know, not even saying after you’ve won, but after I won the gold, you literally find yourself trying to prove yourself.
Yeah. What else do you, so my thing is, is if winning the gold medal doesn’t satisfy people, Yeah. So your opinion, 2004 Dawn, you have won, quote unquote nothing on the standard [00:27:00] that you want. You are still worth it, and your opinion is the only one that matters.
Brett Gilliland: I’m writing down a question I’m gonna ask you here in a minute.
Mm-hmm. But, um, and, and so that, that does, so there, I made a post yesterday and I said, um, something like your vision, what I believe, right? My vision. Has to be, there has to be more belief mm-hmm. In my vision and what we’re gonna do and what we’re gonna build than anybody else’s doubt. Yeah. Oh, right.
Because imagine saying, Hey, um, I’m this little girl from East St. Louis. Mm-hmm. I’m gonna go win the gold medal in Olympics. Oh yeah. Well, I mean, 9 99 outta a hundred people are gonna say you’re crazy. Absolutely right. But your belief has to be greater than their doubt. So how did that play out in your
Dawn Harper-Nelson: life for you?
Oh man. Uh, how it played out is, there’s a really good example and I love it because there, my uncle was in the barbershop when I went off to U ucla and this guy told him, does not know me. Mm-hmm. He told him, oh, I bet, I bet you money. She’s not gonna make it past her first quarter. Oh boy. And I told my uncle, he will pay you that money.
And he had to pay up that money Uhhuh. And so just that example of how does that play out in your [00:28:00] life? People will openly say, yeah, you know, sometimes you deal with like you think and you’ve kind of heard someone tell you, someone said, yeah. It’s like, no, people will openly say this to you of, so what you’s the sports
Brett Gilliland: stars, right?
The newspapers they
Dawn Harper-Nelson: put on social media could every, now everyone has the right to just speak their mind. And now did I read, now it’s on my phone. So it’s right there in your face of you win a race. Like, yeah, but she didn’t do da, da da. She’s not good enough. She can’t do, she won’t be able to do it in a month.
She won’t be able to do it next year. Can she all the just in your hand. Yeah. Did you read that stuff? Um, sometimes it did, and it got to me, and that’s why I said your opinion, but it’s how do you not read some of this stuff? Because within that stuff is also your supporters, right? And so you have those messages, but then you have like a hundred of like, oh my God, don’t, you’re so inspiring and thank you so much, blah, blah, blah.
And you’re like, you’re trash. Oh gosh. Woo. Like, how did that jump out? It, but it is, but you have to find your, like, okay, how do you let 50 out of 10,000 Yeah. Bother [00:29:00] you? Yeah.
Brett Gilliland: So how do you find now, and, and this is the question I wrote down mm-hmm. That I wanted to ask is I, I had a picture that, um, you know, phenomenal major league baseball pitcher for the Cardinals told me one time that the, the adrenaline of coming out of that bullpen.
Mm. You got 48,000 people, 50,000 people screaming for you. The game is on the line. Yep. Heart’s popping. Right? Yep. You can’t replace that. No. So now when we’re running in the Olympics, how do you replace the adrenaline? Mm-hmm. Like how do you find that now? Mm-hmm. To not want to crave
Dawn Harper-Nelson: more of that. Right.
Right. Um, so I think one thing that was helpful, and my husband, thank you for him, Lord, because he was very clear on, do not walk away from this sport until you’re done. Because he said, I cannot fill that void for you. And because he knew when we got married at 28, you know, I was like, oh, like two more years.
You know, we’re gonna have kids, we’re gonna have kids. And he’s like, okay. And he just never was like You said two. Yeah. And then like three years and then four years kind of happened and then like five. And I remember just feeling kind of that [00:30:00] weight of like, oh, I told him, but I don’t really wanna bring it back up cuz I’m still having fun.
Right. Kind of competing. He never. Question. Never said, Hey there lady. You know, you kind of said, and so I remember I said I was gonna retire in after 17 and then I told him this and I made the whole announcement like I’m gonna retire. And I literally, it was after world championships and I had gotten silver and I was like, I’m not done.
And I’m like, how do I say this when I’ve told him I’m gonna move home? Cuz we lived in, oh, he lived in Illinois and I lived in California for first six years of our marriage. Oh wow. So I told him I’m coming home in the fifth year. How do you say actually? Um, and so I remember I was like, babe, so I have, um, I got something I kind of wanna say.
And he’s like, I know. And I’m like, no, you don’t. And then he’s like, I know. And I’m like, okay, I, now I gotta say it. Cause he thinks he knows. And I’m like, I kind of wanna keep running. He’s like, I know. And I was like, what? And he’s like, babe, I know you. He’s like, you’re not done. I was like, thank. And I started crying, like, thank you so much for.
Making sure that you [00:31:00] and the blessing is I was healthy enough to go until I felt like I was done. And so that that helped when I was ready to walk away my yearning to be someone’s mom. And to be a wife of like a so-called full-time wife, cuz you’re always full-time wife. Right. But to be someone’s mom was a bigger pull on me than that.
Um, but I will say being connected to my sport is very, very helpful. Yeah. So I still do commentating. Um, and so when I watch, I still jump on my phone every now and then and record myself watching it. And it is, I get all the feels, I get all the like, but because I still work out, it makes me realize. I don’t need that action anymore cuz I don’t wanna die on the track.
Yeah. The way that I had to, I know what it takes to be on that podium. Yeah. That’s just a commitment that I’m not willing to make. And so I think for me, that’s what’s helpful is me understanding that I’m really okay being done.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah, that’s good. That’s great. I, I heard too, I read during my research, there was this one kid in high school, boy that you couldn’t beat.
Um, and [00:32:00] so now I’d like, have you really, have you seen where this guy’s life has gone? Like, you know anything about
Dawn Harper-Nelson: this guy anymore? I think he has the best life out here. It’s my husband. Yes, it was. It’s just the craziest thing that, that like whose story I tell ’em all the time and we are really like affair.
Like, I’m like, it sounds crazy cuz people are like, how are they on the inside? We’re really like a fairytale because to be the only girl. And so they put me in with all the boys in eighth grade and for him to be the one that beats me. And I was like, Who is that boy? I was like, I wanna race him. I don’t lose.
And he said he was really like, But I’m a boy. Why is she so mad? Because I was, I was like, so when are we racing again? And they’re like, the race is over. I’m like, no, no. That was first round. Um, but no. And so just as time went on, our friendship really grew from that. Yeah. And we never dated until we were 27 years old.
Oh, wow. So he was always my cute friend, Alonzo. Um, but we were always friends that held each other accountable. Yeah. Like in high school. So we went to high school together. Always friends that seriously, like if in the hallway he’s [00:33:00] like, you know, you’re supposed to be, and I’m like, dude, like why you always telling me?
You know, you’re supposed to be. Yeah. But it was a fun, serious friendship. Yeah. You know? And so it was, it was good. That’s awesome. Yeah. That’s awesome.
Brett Gilliland: I love that. I saw that, that he beat you. What’s so weird. Um, last couple questions here. One of the questions I ask all the time for people is fears. Uh, there there’s fears we put in our mind.
Mm-hmm. Right. Yes. How many of the fears you put in your mind actually blew up to the magnitude you put ’em in your mind to be?
Dawn Harper-Nelson: I have one. Let’s hear it. That is, you gotta be kidding me. It is a picture and it’s like, I used it, I had to do a, um, I did an aha speaker series at the Stifel Theater and, um, And I said, this is perfect.
It’s one of those situations once again where I said, when will I ever use this? And I remember thinking, and I’m preparing myself for like, okay, I’m gonna talk to, yeah. You know, this theater, what is going to like, shock them? And I was like, oh God, I got it. Uh, I always just had this fear of falling in a race.
Like a major race though. Not like the, the one, yeah. Um, and [00:34:00] so 2008 in Beijing, I won. Now it’s 2015 and I’m the favorite. To win Beijing. That’s where it all came from. Right. Okay. I already know how this goes. And I remember it was just the talk. I felt like it was finally like, they were like, dawns the one.
Dawns the one. And, um, Gun goes off and my coach, we have been really working on, we’re gonna stay head down and we’re really running through those first two hurdles. We’re going to drive, we’re moving. And I remember even in practice I would do it, but we have hurdle paths on the hurdle. So if you hit it, it’s, it’s literally foam, so it just knocks it off.
It hurts you. You won’t hit the hurdle. So you just know, oh man, I would’ve hit. And I remember sometimes I would kind of peek up because it’s dangerous to run at a hurdle and not. See, see it. Yeah. And, and I’m like, but are you really gonna commit? And I remember standing at the line, I’m like, look, we’re here.
I’m like, I’m gonna trust you guys. I’m like, you know, too many times, you know, I have question. It, it time is now, you know, right in the blocks, head down, gun goes off. First [00:35:00] hurdle, smooth, second hurdle, I’m on the ground. Mm. And now everyone, I was gone. Everyone now has passed me and now they’re gone. Yeah, you didn’t catch And I’m the favorite twin.
Well, the, you’re on the ground and I remember sitting there and there’s a picture of me, no one else is on the track. And I’m sitting there on the ground and I’m like, I’m just, and there’s an official on the side and he’s like, ma’am, ma’am, now cuz the right, the, the event is going on now it’s the next he’s, and I’m like, and I was like, I’m coming.
What just happened? That was the most I, the thing is, I think it’s almost one of those, and it’s like, you know, you don’t know if God works that way, but it’s almost like you need to experience this. No, life is not over because I just felt like if that ever happened, oh my God, I was on the ground, and of course I understood.
This was the second time in my life that my husband’s face put in perspective the magnitude of what had happened. And I come around, I’m walking down and I’m just like, [00:36:00] What is going on? And I finally see my husband and his fa the look on his face of like pure shock and just unbelief was, I was like, oh my God, I did fall.
I fell. I mean, I’m scraped up. Yeah, but it’s like his face. I messed, like I fell. Yeah. And I remember I still had spikes and everything on, and the media is there, like, okay. Interviews. Interviews. And I’m like, I need a moment. I can’t, you know, keep this together. So I go to the back, I lay on the ground and I just lose it.
And he’s taking my spikes off and I’m, I’m mean, I’m just like, I’m putty. Yeah. I am. Complete putty. But the media’s still outside. Like, we’re waiting on you. Whenever you’re ready. When you’re ready. And um, I think it was Joanna, my, one of my old training partners, she came over and she’s like, You got this.
Like get it together. Get it together. And I go back out and I, and I do all the interviews and I get done and I like, I just lose it again. And now I have to go to the medical tent cuz I’m jacked up. Yeah. And so they’re like putting, and I’m burning cuz it’s just like, scars, scars, scars. [00:37:00] And it’s just like, it was just the worst situation ever.
And so, like you said, that was my fear and that happened. And like I said, sometimes it’s okay. Have your moment. Yeah. But I had a race coming up after that. That was the Diamond League trophy was on the line. So do you carry that to that race? Yeah. Do you carry that? Oh my gosh. The worst can happen. What if it happens again?
Well, I went and I won my third one.
Brett Gilliland: Mm, love it. So last question for you. Okay. This is, uh, I always tell people, sometimes I want you to give your your locker room. This is your locker room, halftime speech, right. Teams down. Like whatever it is you got right now. You got a, a, a little boy or a little girl that needs to hear a message.
Okay. Right. And, and they’re gonna listen to a, uh, Olympic gold medalist. Mm-hmm. Give them their halftime speech. Wow. What do you
Dawn Harper-Nelson: tell ’em? Oh man, this is intense. I wanna Oh, and a wrap. No, it’s sweat. It’s okay. No, it’s just, it’s one of those, you, for me, I guess I would, I, like I said, for me, I’m gonna understand the gravity of this [00:38:00] situation, and I’m telling them I.
What we have not done. What you have not done is all the hard work. You remember that time you couldn’t go out with your friends. You remember, and I’m just pointing out Yeah. You remember when you couldn’t, you remember. You remember, you remember that time you were nervous. Hmm. All that. I’m like sitting that now.
Put that stuff outside, right? Because what we will not do is give them that you will not give, you will not give up on your dream right now. Tomorrow you will be smiling. Tomorrow you will be happy because you went out there and you left it all on the line. What we’re going to do is go in. What we’re going to do is work for this is This is the last sacrifice.
Yeah. Right. Go out there and kill. Kill. I’m not here to be soft on my words. Kill. Mm.
Brett Gilliland: I’m not here to be soft in my words. No kill. And don’t you think God wants abundance thinking like, like they want you to. He wants you to
Dawn Harper-Nelson: think right. Uhhuh. I mean, you said [00:39:00] abundance thinking. Yeah, absolutely. I, I just feel like if it’s not meant to be, it won’t be, because I’m like, well, maybe I shouldn’t.
Yeah. I want it all. Yeah. And so if I don’t get it, it’s because I wasn’t supposed to have it. I want it all. So go out there and keep, get So, and it’s funny when I say, you know, soft talking because sometimes, you know, it’s like, oh, is that kind of harsh? No, I say kill. When I say kill, I’m talking about go out there and execute.
Yeah. Yeah, everything, whatever sport this is, soccer you. You know when this person makes that move, you know what you’re supposed to do. Yeah. Don’t second guess it, do it. It is second nature. By this point. If we are in this game, you have been here before, that means you deserve to be here. If we had a track meeting, you get to the third hurdle.
You know what move you’re supposed to make, don’t you second guess. If you second guess, you’re giving them another inch. We don’t have inches in track and field that we can give. Mm-hmm.
Brett Gilliland: It’s pretty badass. I’m fired up. I can run through a brick wall right now. All right. No. Well, uh, Don Harper Nelson, thank you so much for being on the Circuit of Success.
Where do our listeners find more of you [00:40:00] and, uh, where can they find
Dawn Harper-Nelson: Yes, absolutely. So Instagram and um, Twitter is the same d harp. 100 mh. And then Facebook is my name, Dawn Harper Nelson. Awesome.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. Well, thanks so much for being with us today. Of course. Amazing, amazing story. Thank you for bringing all this stuff.
Of course. Not every day you get to hold a, you know, Olympic gold medal, so it’s uh, an honor to be able to do that, uh, and your hard work.
Dawn Harper-Nelson: Amazing. Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. This is awesome.