Martin Luther King Jr.

Former Olympic athlete Marion Jones will talk choices at Martin Luther King youth luncheon

Updated: 2014-01-11T04:16:54Z

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS

The Kansas City Star

A person’s strength isn’t measured by how far he or she climbs, but rather in how the person stands back up after falling.

That is one message U.S. Olympic runner Marion Jones is expected to bring to young people in Kansas City this week.

Another likely theme revolves around choices, good and bad, and their consequences.

Jones has shared her story of redemption across the country and will do so again Friday before a young audience attending this year’s Martin Luther King Day Youth Leadership Development Workshop.

Few athletes have risen to such heights as Jones and then fallen to such depths.

Jones soared into the hearts of Americans as a world-class sprinter who at the 2000 Sydney Olympics won five medals — three gold and two silver — in track and field. Flashing her infectious smile, she shattered records and was celebrated as the fastest woman on the planet.

Then, in 2004, Jones was accused of doping, an allegation she then denied. But in 2007, in a tearful admission on national television, Jones told the world that she had not been honest.

“I have betrayed your trust,” Jones said. “You have a right to be angry.”

She spent six months in prison for lying to federal officials about having taken performance-enhancing drugs. In prison, she spent 49 days in solitary confinement after being goaded into a fight by another inmate.

Jones, a wife and the mother of three, was stripped of her Olympic medals and endorsements, and she lost credibility in the world of Olympic runners.

When she got out of prison, Jones, who had run track since she was 6 years old and had been a star athlete since high school, had to remake herself.

She played basketball for a few years with the WNBA. But Jones was already 34 when she signed on as a rookie. She spent a lot of her time on the bench.

Jones, who declined to talk with The Star for this story, told film director John Singleton, who did a documentary about her, that after prison she wanted to spend time telling her story to young people, “to tell them that by making the wrong choices and bad decisions, it can be disastrous.

“Truly, I hope that people learn from my mistake.”

In 2009, when Jones began talking to teens about her rise and fall, she told The New York Times: “Some people have a really hard time forgiving. There will be people who never believe another word that I have to say.”

And in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, she admitted knowing that some don’t believe she ever told the full truth and, contrary to what she has maintained, some believe she knew what she was ingesting when she took the drug.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Youth Leadership Committee invited Jones to speak after she was seen on television talking about the program she started for teens.

Jones’ “Take a Break” program urges young people to stop, step back and think first or ask for assistance when they are faced with difficult decisions. Something she said she did not do when she made a split-second decision and lied to federal agents.

Arlana Coleman, events planner for the SCLC’s Martin Luther King Day celebration in Kansas City, said the youth leadership workshop has had speakers in the past who, like Jones, did wrong, went to prison and have a story to tell.

“The youth really relate to that,” Coleman said. “What she is saying is, ‘I made a mistake. Don’t you do the same thing.’ I think the youth of today appreciate honesty more than anything else. ”

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