Most athletes know, at a young age, that competing at the highest level is their ultimate goal. And when we hear stories about how an athlete made it, those stories are often about unwavering determination; about never backing down from that dream, no matter the obstacles.
This is not one of those stories. Because at one point, Cleopatra Borel did give up on her dream.
Borel’s dream was to represent her country, Trinidad and Tobago, at the Olympics. She told a TedX audience about being captivated by the Games as a kid but having to root for her Caribbean neighbours like Cuba and Jamaica. “I was always disappointed that we didn’t have athletes from Trinidad and Tobago on my television.”
Borel decided that if she wanted her country represented at the Olympics, she would need to become an Olympic athlete herself. It was a noble pursuit. But she quickly realized that her small town of Mayaro didn’t have the resources to support that dream, and as high school ended she waved the white flag. She decided to head to the U.S., and go to school for physical therapy.
That might have been where her story ended, were it not for a stroke of terrible luck. She found out that her housing agent in Trinidad had been stealing her money, and that she was weeks away from being evicted. “The possibility of losing everything gave me the courage to reach for the one thing I really wanted: to be a track and field athlete.”
To hear Borel tell it, she marched straight into the track coach’s office and secured a spot on the university’s track team. And less than five years later, her dream of representing her country came true: she went to the 2004 Olympics in Greece, and to the next three Games as well.
Borel says that, of the changes she made to achieve her dream, one stands out above the rest: being true to her authentic self. She talks about her role models: the 6-foot-tall, built-like-a-bank-truck European women who were shot put champions before her. And she admits that she used to try to mimic them at competitions, right down to the perma-scowl that many of them wore.
“That took so much energy, I was so stressed. I was trying to be like the best in the world, but I could only be the best Cleo that I could be,” she explained.
“The day I gave up that charade, and I learned to be myself, is the day I truly became a champion.”