PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The white interview table is practically shaking under her pounding fist, but Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian barely realizes what she is doing. After all, that same clenched hand had been wiping away tears only minutes earlier, her emotions literally spilling out as she spoke.
Fenlator-Victorian’s subject, the Jamaican national bobsled program, came into these Olympic Games as one of the most anticipated stories, the 30-year anniversary of the nation’s remarkable winter Olympics debut an easy reminder to continue celebrating what was immortalized in the 1993 Disney classic “Cool Runnings.” But if that movie inspired a nation, and indeed the world, with its simple message that anything is possible, Fenlator-Victorian is here with another, more powerful message. The legacy of those Calgary Games continues to resonate, not only in Jamaica but in similar warm-weather, winter-sport deficient nations across the Globe, and not only for men like the would-be movie stars, but for women who have used bobsled as a new path to Olympic glory.
So there she sat, telling her story of how she came to lead the Jamaican women’s program, how she competed for the United States only four years ago in Sochi but in 2015 decided to engage her dual citizenship and become a pilot for Jamaica, how a Jersey girl from the northern New Jersey town of Wayne came to essentially build a women’s Jamaican program and pull it into competitiveness, how she and rookie teammates Carrie Russell and Audra Segree came to South Korea with a medal on their minds, but more importantly, a message in their hearts.
What the men did 30 years ago, the women can do now. Jamaican athletic outlets don’t have to be limited to the track or the field, but can venture into the snow and ice.
It starts with Fenlator-Victorian, whose journey from Sochi to South Korea has brought new focus to her life.
“If you’d asked me a few years ago about the highlight of my athletic career, potentially my entire life besides marrying my husband, it was competing in the Sochi Winter Olympics, walking into Opening Ceremonies, completing the race in general,” Fenlator-Victorian said, recalling her runs with then-partner and fellow track-turned-bobsled star Lolo Jones. “But all of us, we have a lot of struggles, issues in life outside of sports and this is our outlet. Accomplishing something like this puts it on a pedestal. For me, after Sochi something was missing, especially in my heart, and I didn’t really know what it was.
“People don’t really talk about what happens to athletes after the Olympics. It’s not talked about. There’s a huge depression. You’re out there on social media, smiling, but it’s really kind of a façade. Deep down inside, an athlete has trained for that pivotal moment and in two weeks it’s gone. Regardless of whether you medaled or not, it’s over, and there’s a crash. It’s like a sugar high. Something was missing for me, and I took some time to figure it out. I was talking to parents, friends, family, saying, ‘What do I want to do with my life with this sport? OK, I reached the Olympics, now what?”
Her upbringing gave her an answer.
“I grew up in a diverse home,” Fenlator-Victorian continued. “My mom is Polish, Latvian, and German, second generation. My dad is a Jamaican immigrant. Being mixed, you’re always forced to choose. My parents never did that. They told me I will always be Polish, Latvian, and German and I will always be Jamaican. They taught me to embrace that. That’s why I came back home. It’s important to me. That little girls . . . ”
Here, she paused, turning her head and wiping away tears before taking a deep breath. Leo Campbell, Jamaica’s vice president of sport laid a hand of support on her back.
“. . . and little boys see someone that looks like them, talks like them, has the same culture like them, has crazy curly hair and wears it natural, is included in different things in this world. When you grow up and you don’t see that you feel you can’t do it. And that is not right. So coming back home to Jamaica I wanted my Jamaican people to see that they can do it. There’s not just one path to get out of poverty, to make money, to make a name for yourself. If they want to be a winter Olympian, now they see their fellow Olympian in the winter Olympics.”
Both of Fenlator-Victorian’s teammates, as well as their teammate Anthony Watson, who is competing in skeleton, launched their interest in winter sports off the “Cool Runnings” platform, remembering how much the movie impacted their psyches, laughing about how much they looked up to those athletes depicted on film.
Now, they are them.
“I’ve been watching “Cool Runnings” from the age of 6,” Russell said. “I always wanted to meet Sanka [Coffie]. I’m already past that level because I’m here. Within the next 10 years or so people want to meet me, to know the story behind me.
“It’s an honor to represent my country, the first female team for my country, to be part of that movement. To be a female and make that move it’s a powerful thing. To show the power that females have to break that barrier, within the Caribbean itself, it’s a good feeling. We don’t have ice, we are from a tropical island, to do this sport beyond the “Cool Runnings” movement is to take that legacy they left to us beyond where it was.”Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.