5 Things You Didn't Know About Olympian + Yogi Dawn Harper-Nelson

Yogi and two-time Olympic medalist in hurdling, who’s going for her third medal this August in Brazil, opens up about her practice.
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Yogi and two-time Olympic medalist in hurdling, who’s going for her third medal this August in Brazil, opens up about her practice.
Dawn Harper-Nelson

Yogi and two-time Olympic medalist in hurdling, who’s going for her third medal this August in Brazil, opens up about her practice.

1. Her husband inspired her practice.

My husband inspired me to start practicing yoga one year ago. He’s been doing yoga for 12 years. From the start, yoga prompted me to focus on my breathing and to find a focal point, but my practice really deepened when I realized that this internal focus could take me to the next level in hurdling. With hurdles, there’s so much chaos going on: the actual hurdles, the other competitors, the pressure to win. Yoga helps me focus on the present moment, which makes those uncontrollable factors fade away—or at least feel a little less distracting.

2. Yoga helped her control her nervous breathing when competing.

In track and field, when you’re training and competing, you get to a point where your breathing begins to change because you’re nervous. You start thinking about everything, and your mind is everywhere. Yoga has helped me rein that in.

See alsoThe Science of Breathing

3. Yoga helped improve her concentration and stay in tune with her body.

I had a particularly hard hurdling practice this week. Each rep was excruciating because I was exhausted and run-down. So the workout became mental. At the end of practice, my coach said, “I saw you dig deep for something else.” I was able to push myself in part because of the concentration I have learned through yoga. It’s taught me the benefit of staying in tune with my body when something is difficult; I’ve learned to control my breathing and realize I can stay in a challenging state longer than I’d like.

4. She realized her gift for hurdling early.

I realized I had a gift for hurdling in eighth grade. It clicked for me. In ninth grade, I won the state championship, beating the senior competitor and even breaking her state record. That’s when I realized I wanted to go to college for track and field and run professionally. I wanted to see how good I could be.

5. She sees her age as an advantage in her sport.

I’m 32, which is a good age for hurdles, because the sport takes maturity and understanding. It’s more challenging than flat sprints. You have to perfect your jump 10 times in one race. People like to warn me that I’m running against the “younger kids,” but I tell them that it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good opportunity for me to prove that I can get down with the best of them.

See also5 Things To Know About Olympian + Yogi Tara Lipinski

Dawn's Words To Live By

“Enjoy the journey. Don’t miss out on your ups and downs, because you can—and will—learn something from them.”

Favorite Pose

Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose). "It’s not an easy pose, but I love how it demands stability, flexibility, and focus. When I nail it, I feel like I can hold it forever."

To learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit teamusa.org. Olympics begin August 5.