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This is an extended interview from the 2012 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to the Mag today!
Why did you decide to pose for the Body Issue?
CJ: The Body Issue shows the body as it is in science. My coach, John Smith, believes in the science of track and field, and I wanted to experience doing a photo shoot that was purely about representing the body. I remembered seeing Blake Griffin's photo, and I admired it. It wasn't anything sexual; it just represented the muscles, the body, and it was the same with all the other athletes as well. It wasn't so much of me wanting to get a point across, but I wanted to see myself as a representative of sports, as a representative of track and field, a representative of the human body.
Why do you want to be the best?
CJ: Growing up, my parents instilled in me the idea that I had to achieve the highest goal you can achieve, to be the best in whatever I wanted to do. I believe that attitude has trickled into my professional career. I want to be the best I can be. I even train on my own after practice -- it doesn't stop when John Smith stops the workout.
I guess you could say I grew up in a competitive household -- like trying to get to the bathroom before my brother got there because he took forever, or seeing who could finish their meal first so they could be the first outside to go and play.
We played basketball in the front yard on Saturdays. When they picked teams, I always got picked up because I could play. It was fun growing up and standing outside with the boys (and I was always the only girl out there). But when they picked sides it wouldn't be like, "Oh, I'll take the girl." It was really like, "Oh, I'll take Lita." I wasn't the girl on the team, I was Lita. We'd also play football in the street, and I was always the person they threw the ball to, and they'd just tell me to run. I wasn't running out of fear of getting tackled, I was running out of fear that someone would catch me. So my sprinting career definitely started when I was growing up. When the streetlights came on, that was our cue to get back into the house. As soon as the streetlights came on, I would dash home, and because I wouldn't be on my block in the neighborhood I had to run home faster. I'm sure there were some nights I'd be running a 10.4 back to my house.
What is it that you love about sprinting?
CJ: The excitement, the adrenaline rush. When you are on the line your heart starts pumping, and I'm just ready for that gun to click. Once that gun clicks you can hear the crowd screaming and hollering, you can hear people breathing, the pumping of the arms, I can hear all that. But it depends on what kind of zone you're in. Sometimes I can hear everything like it's a secret power of mine, and anything that's going on in that moment I pick up. But then other times I don't hear a thing. It's like I go deaf for 10 seconds.
My sprinting career definitely started when I was growing up. When the streetlights came on, that was our cue to get back into the house. I'm sure there were some nights I'd be running a 10.4 back to my house.”
What's the most unusual training you have ever done?
CJ: I wouldn't call training with John Smith unusual, but it's definitely very mental. John has us lift weights before we train, so you are already tired when you get to the track, you are already exhausted. If you are weak, your mind will take over your body -- Oh, I can't do this -- so your mind needs to tell your body: Okay, I need to lift my arms, now I need to lift my knees and pump my arms. You are constantly reminding yourself of executing and doing those things right.
Describe a typical day.
CJ: We are at the gym from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., then we are on the track from 9:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., and then I have my own trainer who I see from 12:30 to 2 p.m. At the gym we do Olympic lifting -- power lifting, squats, cleans, bench press. Monday and Thursday is arms, Tuesday and Friday is legs. On the track we'll do a warmup, and then he'll say we are doing something like "400, 400, 300, 200," and that's a lot after lifting weights.
With my trainer we work on core and a lot of single work, which is using my own body weight to develop certain muscles. So one-leg squats, one-leg leg press, one-leg leg curl, a lot of single arm work. You work on each body part so you don't have the opportunity to let your body compensate for a weakness somewhere.
When you hit the wall, how do you move past that point?
CJ: I'll give myself a pamper day -- go and get my nails and my feet done, go to Rodeo and buy myself a bag, or stop at J. Crew and buy myself some clothes. Whenever I hit that wall, it means I need to pamper myself because it tells me I'm overdoing it on the track. It sends a signal: "Okay, it's time for me to go shopping."
Was there any point when you thought this wasn't going to work out?
CJ: In 2004, I'd just finished up with school and I only made the first round of Olympic trials, and after that I was like, "Okay, maybe this isn't for me, maybe I just need to go and work." But my coach at the time said, "No! Uh-uh. You aren't stopping. You have too much talent." And I didn't stop and here I am. Otherwise, I probably would have ended up as a coach or assistant athletic director somewhere.
Describe missing the Olympic team in 2008.
CJ: I was always taught that everything happens for a reason, and me not making that team brought me to be coached by John Smith. Once I didn't make the team, I knew I wanted something different. Then I met John, and I was being coached by him by the end of 2008. Missing that team put a lot into perspective: You need to treat this as a profession, you need to take this more seriously, you need to push yourself to the limit. Missing that team definitely hurt, and it's a feeling I don't want to ever feel again, and since that point I've made every team after that.
Yeah, I'm 32, but I'm at the age where I look at this more as a profession. It's not so much my age that has helped but the fact that I've matured into the sport.”
Which body part do you work out mostly for aesthetic purposes?
CJ: Everything I do has to do with track. I'm not here to look cute. I'm out here to be powerful, be aggressive, to be a force in the 100 and 200 meters. The looking cute part ... I don't really do that. In training we do a lot of squats, a lot of leg presses, a lot of bench pressing so I'm very muscular. Sometimes when I put on certain outfits, maybe I think to myself that I don't want to be that muscular, but I know this is what I need to do to accomplish what I want.
What is a characteristic of your body that would surprise us?
CJ: What surprises people when they meet me is that I don't look as big as I look on TV. They tell me they are expecting this monster who is like, 5'11" and 150 pounds, and then they see me at 5'4" and 132 pounds and they are just like, "You are so cute! And so little!"
What's the biggest challenge you face in regard to your body?
CJ: In college I would get these recurring hamstring injuries in my right leg, and that was definitely an issue once I became a professional. So I started taking care of my body more. I constantly have somebody working with me, making sure my muscles are loose and nothing is tight.
Describe the criticism you face being a 32-year-old woman who's threatening the female all-time 100 meter record.
CJ: I take it as a compliment. I'm in a situation where I have fresher legs even though I'm older. I was hurt so much in college that I couldn't do what I was expected to do. But now I'm able to run. Yeah, I'm 32, but I'm at the age where I'm smarter; I look at this more as a profession. So I take it as a compliment that everyone brings up my age, even though Steve Nash is 38 leading the league in assists, or Derek Fisher is still playing and all these other people who are so much older than me are still getting their time. It's not so much my age that has helped me but the fact that I've matured into the sport.
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