Clearing Life’s Hurdles: Both Metaphorical & Literal with Stephanie Hightower

Stephanie Hightower is the former president of USA Track & Field, and current president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League, a community‐based, non‐profit advocacy organization. She is a four-time US champion in the 100 meter hurdles, a five-time US indoor champion in the 60 meter hurdles, and earned a silver medal at the 1987 Pan American Games. 

In 1980, she qualified to represent the United States at the Moscow Olympics, but was unable to take part due to a nationwide boycott of the games. Instead of letting this setback define her, she continued onwards and became President of USA Track & Field, a member of the IAAF council, and she is currently President of Columbus Urban League, an organization dedicated to empowering African Americans and disenfranchised groups through economic, educational, and social progress. 

Life wasn’t always so distinguished for Stephanie, though. A military child, she lived in a variety of places growing up, and frequently  experienced the different forms of racism that came with each one. Just like the hurdles she built an athletic career jumping over, she didn’t let adversity stand in her way and proved herself through her action and courage off the field, too.

As a person of color, Stephanie brings a unique perspective to this week’s edition of Gravity, where we go deep on the complex issue of racism in America, her personal experiences with it as a child, checking privilege, and code switching in the workplace.

We take time to champion Stephanie’s many achievements, illustrating how she’s used her story and experiences to impact others, and exploring ways we can all become better people while living as our truest selves.

What Brett asks:

  • [02:30] We’re going to start at the very beginning. Tell me about your childhood.
  • [06:20] What were your parents like?
  • [14:55] Tell me about how you realized you were fast enough to become an athlete.
  • [17:25] Did you love being a hurdler?
  • [18:35] What happened after you realized you could become an athlete?
  • [25:10] What were your college years like, outside of sport?
  • [32:25] What was it like being given such an incredible opportunity to travel the world and experience different cultures?
  • [40:00] Is becoming an Olympian an amazing feeling?
  • [42:45] How did it feel to have to boycott The Olympics in 1980?
  • [44:20] What did you do after sports?
  • [50:00] What’s leadership like today?
  • [57:45] Is it useful to be a scrappy outsider?
  • [1:02:30] What do you tell people about how we can all come together as a society?