Jazmine Fenlator has had her share of setbacks. Just over two years ago, Hurricane Irene nearly wiped out everything her family owned, displacing her mother, who is on permanent disability with an illness.
But the Wayne, N.J., native and Rider University graduate, a record-setting track and field athlete at both schools, persevered, and took the biggest step in her Olympic dream when she was named to the U.S. National bobsled team last week, along with her more celebrated sledmate, Lolo Jones.
Fenlator was also one of 13 athletes selected to Team Liberty Mutual, which celebrates human persistence, highlights what is possible with the support of others, and showcases the determination in all who face a setback to come back and “Rise.”
Fenlator discussed her life, career and ambitions in an interview this week, prior to Liberty Mutual’s event in Times Square highlighting the 100-day countdown to the Sochi Games.
NYSD: First of all, congratulations! How did you find out you had made the team?
Jazmine Fenlator: Well, I haven’t made the Olympic team yet. The announcement is on January 19. But the way the selection process goes, you solidify your spot based on results, so when I saw my result [at Time Trials on Oct. 26] I knew I made it.
NYSD: I’ve heard of sprinters and other track athletes taking up bobsled; is it common for throwers as well?
JF: Notoriously, it has ben more runners, but some others like Aja Evans have been in multiple vents, Britney Henry did the hammer throw. It’s not extremely popular but due to the athleticism across track and field in the US it’s been more common.
NYSD: Have you had any correspondence with Vonetta Flowers, the 2002 Gold Medalist and first African-American to win a Winter Olympics Gold, and has she served as an inspiration to you at all?
JF: I watched the Winter Games in 2002, and it was not too long after the movie ‘Cool Runnings,’ so it was exciting and I highly respect her. I was fortunate to meet her a few years back, when she came to Trials. It was amazing to hear her story, see where she has been and how athletic she still is today. Her sharing her story has inspired me through my journeys.
NYSD: Do you feel that the attention Lolo Jones has received and will continue to get will be a good thing for the sport, and, personally, for you?
JF: I think the attention that Lolo has brought is something we can’t tangibly put words to. Bobsled isn’t your everyday household sport, and as athletes we don’t look for it to be that. But having people like Lolo Jones, [Olympic sprinter] Lauryn Williams be humble and train with us and compet with us; we can’t ask for anything more than that. I’ve become great friend with Lolo; not many get so see her personality, her character and genunineness. She’s helped me on my Olympic journey, to be a better athlete.
NYSD: How did growing up in NJ and going to school at Rider shape you?
JF: Well, I like to think of myself as a Jersey Girl through and through. I keep it real so that can come off harsh but at the end of the day, I respect my competitors for their accomplishments and their hard work. We are Jersey Strong, and we’re the Garden State, but we’re also perseverence, rising above.
NYSD: Tell me about the experience of losing your house to Irena and what rebounding from that has meant to your family.
JF: Currently, my family is still rebounding from some of the aftermath of Irene. We suffered from large financial instability and hardships, and it has been very hard to make ends meet day to day. We’ve been fortunate enough to have support from our family and friends, as well as Liberty Mutual, which selected me as one of 13 athletes on Team Liberty Mutual. I’m fortunate to be partnered with them, to share my story and to have that support and stability to help my family. As Olympic hopefuls we don’t receive a paycheck; we rely on corporate sponsorships on the road to Sochi. I’m excited to be kicking off Liberty Mutual’s Tour in Times Square.
NYSD: I think most people understand the dedication it takes to be an Olympic athlete, kind of, but maybe it takes a little more to be a bobsled athlete? I mean, you basically have to take care of the sled as well as compete?
JF: As a bobsled athlete, you’re a jack-of-all-trades. You are your own mechanic, you are supporting your teammates, trying to get feedback from them. You are your own nutritionist, trying to stay healthy and fit while travleing. We have a 400-pound slead to carry, so we’re our own pit crew too. It’s blue collar – but that makes your success that much better.
NYSD: What are you most looking forward to in the next 100 days out from Sochi?
JF: Well, first, celebrating the countdown, Getting the public aware about the games, representing Team Liberty Mutual and how gung-ho they are to help us share our stories. I’m super excited to have that outlet and in my home area. Over the next 100 days, I’m looking forward to growing and becoming better every day. I want to walk into that opening ceremony on February 7 and say, ‘the hay is in the barn.’ The work is in. I hope to rise to that challenge and bring home some medals.