Feb. 27, 2007

When Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan in 1979, then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter made a decision that shocked and stunned many, especially former OSU track star Stephanie Hightower. Hightower, who was a member of the U.S. Track and Field squad, was ready to compete in her first Olympic Games. However, President Carter instead boycotted the U.S. team from competing at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, leaving Hightower and the rest of her teammates only able to watch the games from home.

“It was devastating to say the least,” recalls Hightower. “To work so hard and train for over three years to get there, I was ready to go. And then being told I had to wait another four years was extremely hard.”

Yet now, reminiscing 26 years later, Hightower is able to find the positive out of the unfortunate situation.

“I was angry, but now from a different perspective I realize I grew so much as a person from that missed opportunity,” said Hightower. “I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and it made me re-focus for the next Olympics.”

Hightower was later picked as an alternate for the 1984 Olympics and despite not winning a medal there, she gained something even more valuable. Through those years, Hightower realized her passion to advocate equality and equity as a track athlete that would soon evolve into a successful professional career.

Hightower’s path to one of the most renowned track athletes began in Germany, where her father was stationed during her childhood days. It was there that Hightower realized that she could run faster than the neighborhood boys. With her family eventually settling in Louisville, Ky., she decided to specialize in hurdling as a member of her high school track team. Soon scholarship offers began to pour in from several top colleges, yet Hightower was only looking at one school – Tennessee State.

It was there that under the tutelage of head coach Ed Temple, track standouts Wilma Rudolph, Mae Faggs, Wyomia Tyus and Edith McGuire had garnered national recognition as one of the top track and field programs in the country. Temple had guided his TSU teams to 13 outdoor titles and six indoor national titles during his tenure.

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