Gail Devers - From a crawl to sprint queen

If life hadn’t gone her way, she would have lost her feet. Instead she bounced back from a near-traumatic experience to bag gold medals. Here’s her story.

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Gail Devers is a celebrated American athlete who has one of the most inspiring stories the sporting world has to offer. A multiple Olympic gold medallist, she is a legend in the field of athletics who mainly competed in the 100m sprint and 100m hurdles. Things didn’t go so smooth for this upcoming talent in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when she was diagnosed with a serious illness that threatened to leave her crippled forever!

The Fight With Graves’ Disease

Devers first began experiencing problems with her health while training for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She managed to qualify for the 100m hurdles but didn’t fare too well. Later in 1990, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder which affects the thyroid glands. Apart from weight loss, she suffered from migraine, loss of vision and developed severe blisters on her feet which reduced her movement to a crawl. It got worse as it was even considered amputating her feet at one point! She underwent radioiodine treatment and subsequent hormone replacement therapy which enabled her to resume training slowly.

Return To Competitive Events

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She made a surprise appearance in the 1991 World Championships where she took silver in the 100m hurdles and made it to the 100m sprint final at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Gail won the gold out of the blue in a close finish and the world took notice of this fighting champion.

In 1996, she became the first woman since 1964 to successfully defend her Olympic gold when she won at Atlanta in 1996 in another tense finish. She also won a second gold in Atlanta where she was a part of the 4x100m relay-winning team. She won the hurdles gold in the World Championships of 1993, 1994 and 1995 too. There was another gold in the 4x100m event too at the 1997 World Championships.

She was famous for her flashy, long fingernails which, according to Gail herself, were grown for three years and then trimmed to signify the time it took for diagnosis of her disease. Gail is now 48 and busy raising her two kids, while at the same time, giving back to the society through her foundation.

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