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"There are one of two ways to do this if you want to achieve greatness," Francis says. "You can either go to the needle or you can work for it." He mentions MVP's daily 5 a.m. workouts. He says that from October 2007 on, Shelly-Ann would always be the first there, waiting in the cold and dark, ready to work.
Still, they didn't want her to run. Who? Some of the public, for sure. The JAAA and the other Jamaican runners, maybe. The fact is, although Fraser had finished second in the island's 2008 Olympic trials—with the top three finishers supposedly locked in to compete in Beijing—a groundswell rose to remove her from the 100-meter squad. After all, she was relatively unknown and inexperienced, and Campbell-Brown, who had finished fourth at the trials, was the event's defending world champion, not to mention the 200-meter Olympic gold medalist in 2004. Shouldn't Jamaica put its greatest foot on the track, instead of this ... fluke?
In the weeks before Beijing, Fraser felt that weight bearing down. She considered quitting. But then she'd hear the same voice that motivated her whenever she'd get discouraged with school or with running and ponder leaving Wolmer's. You do that? the voice said. You're not a survivor. You're weak.
She dug in. "I said to all of them, 'I earned my spot. I trained hard, and I came to the Olympics to win,'" Fraser says. "Every time I'm tired, I said, Shelly, get up. I'm sure my competitors were coming out thinking, Oh, Shelly-Ann Fraser: the girl that nobody wanted to run in this great meet."
We're driving through Kingston now, from UTech to Waterhouse, present to past. Thing was, Fraser missed Waterhouse those last two years of high school, when Carr and the principal set her up to live with a family near Wolmer's. Ashoka Road may have been distracting, but it was hers: Shelly-Ann had shared a bed with her mom and two brothers in that tenement room, and her grandmother lived next door. Some days they didn't eat. Some days they'd go to shops and beg for credit, a bit of food. Her uncle Corey would later get shot and killed a few streets over, and cousin Dwayne was gunned down three days before his baby was born. But in the months between graduating from Wolmer's and going to UTech, Shelly-Ann came back anyway, sleeping in the same bed with her grandmother after an argument with her mother. "I love being home," she says.
A sudden, pelting rain begins, hitting our vehicle like buckshot. The borrowed pickup truck jounces onto Ashoka, past the mounds of gravel and dirt, the pavers and workmen. The first reward for winning gold: The government sent workers to fix Fraser's street. Hurricane Gustav delayed them a bit, leaving today's ravaged mudscape. "Trust me, if you saw this before, you would have never gone on it," Fraser says. "It was awful. It wasn't a road."
The block looks different in daytime, bleached out and still. The speakers and bar are gone. The beverage signs have been peeled off the wall outside her family's yard, revealing a spray-painted declaration of Fraser's new rank in the garrison hierarchy: SHELLY-ANN, GOLDEN GIRL, it says. MOSCOW ONE DON. "It means she's the leader," says a boy drifting over. "For what she's done."
Fraser and her mother lead a tour: outdoor toilets, rotted vegetables on the ground, rocks and shards of cinder blocks tossed on the tin roofs to keep the wind out. Shelly's uncle Omar walks up. Maxine introduces another uncle, skin leathered, nearly incoherent, and now we're hurrying down Ashoka, heading around the block to an overgrown lot where his house burned down years ago. "Can you write something?" she says. "Can you help?"
Back on Ashoka Road, Omar edges up in a T-shirt reading, ME LOVE ME GANGA. He apologizes for his joint, takes a long drag and says how proud he is that Shelly-Ann wants to open a community center here next year, use the medal to help Waterhouse. The future? "We can only hope for the best," he says.
Shelly-Ann was never bothered as a kid coming home at night from Wolmer's; the street boys called her Merlene and let her be. Now a schoolgirl approaches: braids, four years old, so proud of her spotless blue jumper and her new shoes. "Shanneeka Williams," she whispers when asked her name, then leans down to wipe dust from her Mary Janes.