(Photo courtesy of University of Miami Sports Information/JC Ridley)
An athlete must be incredibly talented to make it to the Olympic games. To run in those games three times takes an even more extraordinary amount of skill, and Florida has its own Olympic Super Girl in University of Miami alumna Lauryn Williams.
Though she graduated in 2004, Williams remembers her time at UM as one that prepared her for her competitions around the world, and what she will soon face in London.
"I think giving me the opportunity to run track and field in general was how the University of Miami was instrumental in my career," she said.
The sprinter specifically mentions her coach, Amy Deem, as a source of inspiration and opportunity -- Williams not only ran for her, but was also awarded a running scholarship. Deem will once again be Williams' head coach in the London Olympics.
"That's the reason I worked so hard. She's an amazing coach; she's the coach of the whole women's Olympic team this year, so you know that says a lot about her," Williams said.
"I think I fell into the right hands, and that's what really grew me and grew my talents. I don't know if I ended up in any other state that it would have been the same situation."
After winning the gold in both the World Championships and the Pan American Games, Williams wants next what every athlete dreams of: Olympic gold. She already received a silver medal in the 2004 Athens games, but after a botched handoff during the 4x100 meter relays, she went home from the 2008 Beijing games empty handed. But even without the gold, she remembers those first two games fondly -- particularly the amount of supporters she had in Athens.
"One of the big things that happened was somebody donated the money -- they collected the money -- so that my father would be able to go, and they ended up raising so much money that I got seven family members to be able to travel on the money collected by other people," Williams said.
"I think that's the biggest and fondest memory, just people coming together to support me in the first one."
Even thinking back on Beijing, where the coveted medals eluded her, Williams can recall the good times she had there.
"The second time I think the Great Wall of China...running track and field has taken me all over the world, but to actually get on the Great Wall of China was one of those things you can't put words to," she said.
"It's just a really great opportunity first of all to make just one Olympic team, but then the second one, and then to also be in the final eight in the world was an accomplishment of itself. Of course everybody wants to go for gold, but I try not to discount whatever place I get because I know it's an accomplishment."
Many challenges have presented themselves since Williams returned from China. Months after she got home, her father died, and she spent all of 2010 away from track. She traveled and spent some time back at UM before returning to the sport in 2011.
While some would be crushed after such a trying time, Williams believes that these experiences have made her stronger. She is looking forward to whatever challenges London may bring.
"Hopefully the third time's going to be the charm," she said.
Aside from the competitions, the Olympics present many other opportunities for athletes. Running alongside fellow UM graduates, meeting others from around the world and watching other events are just some of things that Williams is looking forward to. One of her favorite sports to watch outside of track and field is gymnastics, which she participated in as a child.
"Obviously I wasn't good enough to be Olympic status at that," she laughed.
Williams is also curious about the sports we don't hear about every day, like handball and fencing, which the worldwide games bring to the spotlight.
"I think part of being focused is being distracted by some of the fun stuff and really being able to take in the moment of being at the Olympics, and what the Olympic spirit is all about," she said.
"I think the Olympics is a bigger experience than just the actual race that you're preparing for."
With years of experience behind her, maybe 2012 will be Lauryn Williams' year. She's got her fingers crossed that the saying is true -- that the third time really is the charm.