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Tori Bowie: from foster child to fame

US sprinter Tori Bowie celebrates her gold medal in the 100m at the world championships in London on August 6, 2017 © AFP / Adrian DENNIS

LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 7Tori Bowie’s dream of one day seeing a sign in her home community saying “Welcome to Sand Hill, home to Tori Bowie” looks almost certain to be realised after her stunning 100m win at the London world athletics championships.

For the sport, the 26-year-old American’s victory — courtesy of her habitual hurling herself at the line, which denied diminutive Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou the gold — will be a welcome antidote to the largely hostile reception of her compatriot and two-time dope cheat Justin Gatlin’s win in the men’s race the night before.

For Bowie — who finally tasted gold in an individual event after lesser medals in the Olympic 100m and 200m as well as the 2015 100 world final — it will also be a moment of glory shared with her paternal grandmother and her role model, Bobbie Smith.

But for Smith, Bowie says, she and her sister Tamara — younger by just under a year — would have been taken on by foster parents.

US sprinter Tori Bowie wins the 100m at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London © AFP / ANTONIN THUILLIER

“My mother dropped us off at a foster care centre when I was just two,” Bowie told NBC last year.

“But my grandmother ended up fighting for us and winning custody of us.

“We didn’t have much but she gave us character,” added Bowie, who has shortened her name from the unusual Fentorish.

– ‘Don’t think of boys’ –

Smith for her part had no hesitation in assuming her responsibilities to her discarded granddaughters even though she had five children of her own to bring up in the tiny enclave in Mississippi which is so small Bowie says there are no “stop lights”.

She said her own grandmother had taken in six grandchildren, including herself, despite the hardship.

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“So I knew if she could take in six, I could take in two. That helped motivate me and let me know I could do it,” the 70-year-old told the Clarion-Ledger.

Bowie, who has done some modelling and is keen to get into acting with her goal to attract the attention of gospel film legend Tyler Perry, says she and Tamara are eternally aware of their grandmother’s sacrifices.

“To me, it’s like she really hasn’t had a life herself because she has given her entire life to us,” Bowie told last year.

Smith, who is still referred to as “Mama” by both the sisters, instilled in the two girls from an early age what their priorities should be so they could experience a different life from the impoverished one their parents and she had done.

“I encouraged them to go to school and don’t think of boys at young age and they took my advice,” she said.

Bowie, who says she was a tomboy in her youth, going out and playing basketball with her male relations as well as going shooting with them, has shown that on the track and Tamarra, while a talented athlete in her own right, is studying law.

Smith is especially proud of how the two girls have turned out.

“It makes me think about no matter how bad things can get or start in your life or be in your life, it’s still good things that can come out of it,” she told WBTV.

Bowie, who is also determined to emulate her grandmother’s example in taking disadvantaged children under her wing and encouraging them that they can succeed, is mindful of another piece of advice Smith gave them.

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“My grandmother told me a long time ago, ‘I don’t care if you’re sweeping a porch for a living. She said, you need to do your best.’

“So I’ve lived by that every single day,” Bowie told WBTV.

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