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Leaps of Faith

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Oviedo mom and Olympic high-jumper Chaunté Lowe revels in a long-delayed Olympic medal

Olympic high-jumper Chaunté Lowe left the Summer Games in Rio with a nagging feeling. The Oviedo resident had appeared in four Olympic Games, a stunning achievement, and had earned an array of impressive titles in her sport. But this was likely her last chance at that ultimate prize: an Olympic medal. And it didn’t happen.

“It was a bit of a sting,” Chaunté says.

Months later, that sting was replaced with a rapid-fire succession of confusion and elation when Chaunté received – out of the blue – a Facebook message from an athlete she knew from the 2008 Beijing games:
“Congratulations, bronze medalist.”

Chaunté was confused at first. But it didn’t take long to confirm that a major doping investigation this fall had disqualified three high-jumpers from Russia and Ukraine who finished ahead of Chaunté in Beijing, moving her 6.5-feet mark from sixth to third place, good enough for the bronze.

Chaunté delivered the news to her nine-year-old daughter, Jasmine, as the young girl stepped off a school bus.

“She was super-excited,” Chaunté says. “She said, ‘You were already a winner with me. Now everybody will know.’“
Chaunté, 32, had to wait an astounding eight years for vindication. But then, little has come easy for this fiercely competitive athlete.

Born Chaunté Howard, she grew up in poverty, living at times in rundown motels and the back seats of cars in Paso Robles, California. Utilities would get disconnected, and sometimes there was no running water.

But Chaunté had a gift. She discovered it while hopping up and down on some mattresses with her sisters when they were all little girls. Chaunté could jump higher than anyone else.

That gift led to a career as a professional track and field athlete, which Chaunté has juggled with the demands of raising three children with her husband and fellow jumper Mario Lowe.

Chaunté found early success with three NCAA championships. She is the American record holder in the women’s high jump, both indoor and outdoor, and earned three medals in international championships. She also took part in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and finished in sixth place at the 2012 London Games.

Once money started rolling in from prizes and sponsorships, Chaunté wasted no time indulging herself.

“Growing up, I never had anything new,” she recalls. “It was all thrift stores. Once I got my first [sponsorship] contract, I started going on shopping sprees. I felt like it was my mission to spend it all.”

Everything came crashing down around the time of the 2008 Olympics, when the Lowes were living in Georgia. Chaunté’s husband lost his job during the economic crisis, and the couple lost their home to foreclosure.

It is true, Chaunté says, that things might have turned out differently had the bronze medal been awarded to her in Beijing. But she tries to be philosophical about it. As an infant, daughter Jasmine would not have been able to enjoy the excitement. And today, Chaunté also has five-year-old daughter Aurora and three-year-old son Mario to share in her glory.

While Chaunté harbored a vague feeling that she might have been cheated out of a medal in China, after eight years, she brushed it off as ancient history. Olympic urine samples are stored for up to a decade, however, and retesting of those samples has uncovered doping violations among more than 75 athletes from the Beijing games and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Most of the alleged offenders were from Russia and Eastern Europe, and many were medal winners.

Chaunté sees another upside in the eight-year lapse. Her financial troubles in 2008 forced her to take a new approach to money. She vowed to start saving and investing and began taking accounting and financial management classes. Chaunté also worked with a well-known financial advisory firm to put together a program to help athletes attain financial security.

Her difficult upbringing and financial struggles, Chaunté says, make her grateful for what she has achieved, and she wants to help others avoid her missteps. Her deep religious faith has also helped her weather the storms.

“I don’t take anything for granted. I just feel really blessed,” Chaunté says.

In 2015, the Lowes faced yet another hardship when Aurora began showing signs of autism or Asperger’s syndrome. The family moved from Georgia to Oviedo so Aurora could get specialized schooling. The result: Aurora is now fully mainstreamed in kindergarten, and she and her siblings are thriving in a family-friendly community in the land of sunshine and theme parks.
“We love Oviedo,” Chaunté says.

This world has thrown Chaunté more than her share of obstacles. But when she leaps into the air, for one brief moment, she escapes its gravitational pull. She grew up with recurring dreams of being able to fly, and was always fascinated with weightlessness. Chaunté even considered becoming an astronaut.

“Jumping is the closest I can get to flying,” she says. “And that’s why I love it.”

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