(Cover and story photo credits: 3r3_inspired/Mike B Photography)
What are the odds that a 100-meter hurdler from Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky will compete on the world’s grandest athletic stage six weeks from now?
It’s noted that there’s a 1 in 9,079 chance as a female that you’ll make the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team1. But the chances have been even greater for Lutisha Bowen, who will run that event for the Panama National Team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympics.
“Oh man, words can’t even describe it,” said Bowen on being a kid from Ballard going to the Olympics. “Everything I can ever dream of. Especially with track being such a small sport, not just in Kentucky but worldwide, I’m grateful for the opportunity so I can show all the other kids that anything is possible if you keep the faith, keep pursuing.”
Certainly if you ask her what her primary motivations are, being a model for the kids behind her is one of them – the kids at Ballard, the kids who run with the Westside Track Club. She’s amazed by how the younger kids look up to her.
“That’s the most enjoyable thing about it all,” she said.
She does it for them and for the coaches and family who have invested in her.
Aside from one single year (Bowen’s senior year), Donald Goodwin has been the head track and field coach at Ballard since 1994. And observing his time when he coached her, not much has changed in the athlete.
“Probably pretty much the same as she is now,” commented Goodwin. “Focused, goal-oriented, tenacious”
Goodwin highlighted her driven work ethic. Discussing that he typically sees kids endure three to four years before they really start working hard, he saw that in Bowen from the beginning. She had come from the Louisville’s renowned Westside Track Club, a club spearheaded by William “Chico” Underwood that has produced several national champions including over 30 AAU and USA Track & Field medalists.
So how did Bowen end up making the Panama National Team? We’ll, she’s half-Panamanian! Her father is from Panama, which gave her access to compete. The country’s national championships were held last month in Panama City. Bowen had already run the qualifying time of 12.99 seconds to compete in the Olympics, so when she took first place in the 100 meter hurdles at the championships, she was guaranteed a spot on the national team.
Even with battling an injury, Bowen was confident that the chances were in her favor. The competition would be less fierce than if she were trying to qualify for the U.S. National Team.
And she did it.
“Thank God for that,” Bowen stated. “I just had to get that out the way so I could spend time trying to get healthy.”
Bowen has been dealing with tissue inflammation underneath her groin since the beginning of the outdoor season. Her therapy has included acupuncture, not doing too much hurdling, light jogs around the track, more focus on conditioning via 400-meter workouts, working on mechanics, and taking every other day to recover.
“So at this point,” said Bowen, “I’m just trying to stay healthy and work on my race to get ready for the Olympic Games in Rio.”
In the midst of rehab, Bowen has had the pleasure of getting some training in from Coach Bob Kersee, thanks to his friendship with Bowen’s former coach Jeanette Bowden at the University of Central Florida. Kersee is a track coach in Los Angeles who has trained, and continues to train, elite athletes including his wife Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
And get this – he’s also from Panama.
“He was really excited to work with me and coach someone to represent the country,” highlighted Bowen, who said she didn’t know his nationality until she arrived out in California ready to train.
Kersee currently works with Olympians Allyson Felix, Dawn Harper, and a host of other great athletes.
“Just being in that environment around other world-class athletes who have been there and experienced and actually won medals was just amazing,” said Bowen. “I had a great time out there.”
Bowen will plan to make another trip to L.A. for training before leaving for Rio. She’ll also attempt to squeeze in a few more meets to get more races under her belt. She left last night to race in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend.
“I’ve always been so proud of that culture, that part of my family… but I never thought that I could represent Panama, so it was never in the back of my head.”
It wasn’t until her senior year of college that she realized she could actually try out for the national team, “so that just made everything so much more reachable,” Bowen added. “It’s a blessing in disguise. I’m just blessed to have that avenue to represent my family.”
On going to the Olympics, Goodwin said, “This is a goal she’s had… She had a plan for her and it all worked out for her. But knowing her, she’s probably got another goal going for her (after the Olympics).”
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from,” said Bowen. “If you really, really want it, it’s there for the taking. I’m just happy to represent Louisville, as well as Panama.”
To find our previous interview with Lutisha Bowen, including more of her background and training regimen, click here.