Black Olympians at Sochi: US bobsledder Fenlator fights for dream

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KRASNAYA POLYANA (AP) — Nothing has slowed Jazmine Fenlator.

Not her lack of money. Not her mother’s debilitating illness. Not her college course load while working odd jobs to make ends meet. Not even Hurricane Irene.

Fenlator, who will drive USA-3 in the women’s bobsled competition in Sochi with Olympic hurdler-turned-brakeman Lolo Jones in the back, has driven around obstacles more challenging than anything she’ll encounter at 80 mph on a bobsled track.

The daughter of a Jamaican father, whose work ethic rubbed off on her, and a mother who has battled lupus most of her life, Fenlator’s a fighter.

One tough Jersey girl.

She’s done whatever it has taken to fund her athletic dream, coped with guilt and grief as her mom, Suzie, struggled with her health while feeling helpless a half-world away, and provided her family with financial support when their home was severely damaged in 2011 by a storm that pummeled the East Coast.

“I can’t imagine all that she’s gone through,” said her teammates Elana Myers, USA-1’s pilot. “I admire her courage to be able to fight through all the adversity — because it’s a lot.”

Fenlator takes everything in stride. It’s the only way she knows. As she discusses her sacrifices and rattles off the ways she’s earned money — “I’ve worked at a creperie, been a freelance graphic designer, did some baby-sitting, washed floors and cleaned toilets” — she does so smiling.

But there have been times when it’s been hard for this 28-year-old from Pequannock, N.J., to put on a happy face or perform at an elite level.

Like in January, when her mom, who has lost half her sight, was hospitalized with pneumonia and needed a blood transfusion.

“That’s when we were racing in St. Moritz,” she said. “My worst performance this year.”

Fenlator has spent months away because of races, and there are days when she’s overwhelmed with worry. In a way, though, she has drawn strength from her mother’s bravery in the fight against a ruthless disease that attacks the immune system.

Fenlator keeps in daily contact with her mom, but calls via Facetime aren’t always enough. Nothing can replace a hug or gentle kiss.

“Most of the time when I call her she’s laying down,” Fenlator explains, swallowing to suppress emotion. “She’s had quadruple bypass heart surgery, suffered 10 mini-strokes. It is hard for me to be here because that’s the one person I want to share this experience with, the one person who has really fueled this, but I also know her being at home and the comfort of having people around her in case she has an emergency is important.”

Fenlator puts on a defiant face, but her teammates can sense when she’s down.

And it’s at those moments when “The Wolfpack” — as the American women have nicknamed themselves — surrounds the one they call “JWoww.”

“We’re always trying to keep her head up and pump her up and make sure she’s OK,” Meyers said. “I’ve personally had a lot of talks with her, especially here at the Olympics, to go out there and have fun and see what happens. We’re in Russia and she needs to enjoy it as much as she can.

“She seems to be and we’re all praying for her mom, but it’s a difficult situation and there’s no really easing that kind of pain.”

At one point, the money dried up and it looked as if Fenlator might have to abandon her Olympic chase. She never once thought of quitting.

Instead, she went to work.

She sold T-shirts, juggled three jobs while pursuing her master’s degree and turned to crowdsourcing — fundraising via the Internet — to raise $3,000, money she used to pay for training and transportation.

“A lot of my fundraising is for bobsled and all of my work money goes to my mom,” she said. “I pay for her car insurance. Sometimes she may have only $200 in her account and she has to pay the phone bill and put food on the table.”

It’s that drive, the will to win that brought her to Russia and will keep her going long after she leaves.

“I’m a hustler,” she said. “You work and you grind because at the end of the day, there’s a bigger picture.”

She’s fought hard to see it.

The women’s competition begins Tuesday with two runs.

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