Lauryn Williams – Olympic Silver Medalist
The Business of Track: With one Olympic medal, a finance degree and bilingual abilities, Lauryn Williams knows track – and means business.
By Bari Lieberman
Olympic silver medalist and track star Lauryn Williams defends her World Champion title this month in the 100-meter sprint in Osaka, Japan. Williams, who turns 24 in September, became passionate about track after she received a track scholarship to the University of Miami. Now she is paying it forward with her scholarship program that rewards one high school female athlete with $1,000 toward college every time she runs under 11 seconds.
After a year-long recovery from a hamstring injury, Williams prepares to win her second World Championship – and tells PINK about her business goals, her philanthropy and her love of the sport.
PINK: You didn’t love track immediately. What changed your mind?
Lauryn Williams: I ran track all four years of high school but didn’t work hard. I didn’t become serious about it until college, when it grew on me. My main goal was to go to college, and I trained hard to repay my college coach [Amy Deem]. I run most of my big decisions by her even on things outside of sports. She helped pick the paint in my home and [advised on] what organizations to be involved with. At one point I was taking on too much, so she helped me decide what was important and eliminate the others.
PINK: Track is losing popularity in the U.S., and most runners are going abroad to make money. What’s going on?
L.W.: There is little to no interest in track and field in this country right now, and the main place we go to make our money is Europe. There are about 50 to 60 meets to choose from internationally and only five in the U.S. I think the highest prize at any U.S. meet is $5,000. European meets [can pay] 16,000 Euro [about $22,000]. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what the remedy will be.
PINK: What makes you unique among runners?
L.W.: I try to bring my personality traits into the sport. I’ve been passionate about giving, and at age 23 I have more than enough money to give. Track has given me the opportunity to go all kinds of places and meet people from different walks of life. Last fall I went to Africa and helped the Right to Play [philanthropy] organization, which was life-changing. It’s indescribable how it makes you look at what’s really important in life.
PINK: What is your favorite volunteer work?
L.W.: The main organization I support is Fun4Kidz. They provide scholarships for kids to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports. That’s important because a lot of kids can’t compete because it’s becoming so expensive. As a kid I did gymnastics, karate, dancing, softball and basketball.
PINK: What have you learned from your philanthropic work that has helped you become a successful professional woman?
L.W.: My job requires more of me than the actual racing. I am a role model to children, so I must carry myself in a positive manner at all times. When someone is considering donating to our organization, she wants to know that I, the face of the organization, believe in the product and use the life skills we are teaching kids myself. So often athletes are put on a pedestal, but sponsors want to identify with an athlete who is a good person.
PINK: What is your current goal, and how do you plan to achieve it?
L.W.: To win the World Championship. Being injured has been a real learning experience. I’ve reached a whole other level of determination from going that extra mile. I’m putting my all into it.
PINK: What will you do after your track career?
L.W.: I received a finance degree from the University of Miami, and I’m studying for Series 7 [the General Securities Representative exam] now, so maybe I’ll sell securities. I have a real estate license in Florida, and I do volunteer work. I’m almost proficient in sign language, and I’m teaching myself Spanish and French. I’m taking the opportunity and flexibility of my current job to try different things.
PINK: What is your success secret?
L.W.: My positive attitude and trying to make the most of each day. My motto is: “My work knows no limits.” I base my life on that – no excuses for why you can’t do something. If you’re working hard, there’ll always be someone to help you move forward. My hard work repaying [Deem] for the scholarship showed me there are no limits to what I can achieve. I had no idea I’d be an Olympic silver medalist when I went to college in 2001.
PINK: What have you learned from athletics that will help you succeed in the business world?
L.W.: Communication and networking. I travel all over the world, and I’ve learned that the way you present yourself is extremely important. For example, body language is perceived differently in different places. In Europe the multiple kisses took some getting used to; for a complete stranger to be that close to my face doesn’t seem normal to me. I still run from my mom when she tries to kiss me!
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