Olympic athlete and former USF track and field star Damu Cherry has overcome more than just hurdles during her life on the track.
She holds the second fastest time in American history for the women’s 100-meter hurdles at 12.44 seconds – only 0.11 seconds behind Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers.
Cherry credits her faith and family for allowing her to persevere through adversity and flourish into a world-class athlete.
She participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and will represent the United States in the IAAF World Championships Aug. 15-23.
Cherry, who graduated from USF in 2000, recently spoke with the Oracle about her success.
Oracle: How badly do you want to be the fastest woman in the 100-meter hurdles?
Damu Cherry: I want the record. I train hard every day in order to achieve that perfect race. I am very close, but I have not put it all together in one race. I am praying it comes at the IAAF World Championships held in Berlin, Germany, next month.
O: Have you ever met the current record holder, Gail Devers?
DC: I know her very well. She is always available for advice and coaching on the track circuit. She has been a great motivating factor for my pursuit of the record. For someone to overcome Graves’ disease and be named the world’s fastest woman 17 months later is a tribute to her dedication and fearlessness.
O: What was your favorite moment as a Bull?
DC: Competing on the All-American team and being able to represent the University at the NCAA national meet. I am impressed by the new track and field renovations after visiting last October. It is a great feeling to have my picture hanging on display for all the future USF athletes.
O: How difficult was your two-year suspension from the sport after testing positive for a banned substance?
DC: I never lost the love for hurdling. It was easy with the support of my family and faith. My father, Don, is a former coach and preacher and is never afraid to tell me when I need to improve. My mother, Hassie, is my biggest fan and is the first one to let me know the weather report of each
day’s race well in advance. I’m just thankful she is here to see me after fighting through cancer.
O: How did it feel to finally make an Olympic team?
DC: I was thankful to be rewarded for all the years of hard work. The race was a blur, and I only remember hitting the 10th hurdle.
O: How was the Olympic experience in Beijing?
DC: It was amazing to be a part of something so big. I found time in between practice to watch my second love, gymnastics. I had been a gymnast for eight years and had success in the vault and floor events. I really enjoy music and dancing so floor events were a fun outlet for competition. I was able to bring my parents out of the country for the first time in their lives as well.
O: What is like to have a husband as a coach?
DC: Dennis (Mitchell) has been there when I wasn’t at my fastest. He is very tough on me and will tell me when I’m not doing my best. He has proven that he knows what it takes to win a gold medal and how much preparation goes into owning a world track record.