We are so excited to have Brooks Pro Athlete, Fawn Dorr, kick off our runner interview series here at Salty Running. Fawn is an 11 time NCAA All-American from Pennsylvania State University. She is 25 now and still lives and trains in Happy Valley. Her primary event is the 400 meter hurdles. Recently, Fawn, who holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship, competed at the Canadian National Championships hoping to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. She nearly missed qualifying, but her spunk and electric personality keep her going strong.
So let’s start with the most important question first. I heard that Lady Gaga’s stylist does your hair. Is that true?
Well! I’m sure that the amazing Lady GaGa has many hairstylists. It just so happened that via Twitter I found one of her hairstylists named CeeRusso. He is an AMAZING artist. And I say artist because that is EXACTLY what he is! A head of hair is his canvas! I’m honored to have him cut my hair. Before MillRose and the U.S. Open, he came to my hotel and cut it.
Do you ever get any push-back from coaches or sponsors about your funky style, which we at SR LOVE by the way?
Well THANK YOU! I think I’ve always been strange to people. After a very awkward adolescence, you learn to embrace your strangeness. My coach, Chris Johnson, advised me NOT to shave my head before I had a professional contract. So I bleached half of it instead, which was a rather less permanent move. I took his advice though, as I often do, and waited until I signed with Brooks. One of Brooks’ slogans is “Keep Brooks Weird.” I’m just living the slogan. In this industry, being different is what makes you valuable. You’re a walking billboard. I’m just doing my job and having fun with it.
I read that you had an interesting high school career, winning in the longer distance events before getting hit by a car and as a result, switching to shorter distances in your senior year. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
I went to a very small school and raced in nearly every event, but I thrived in the 1500m and 2000m steeple. Following 8th grade, I was riding my bike and was hit by a teenager driving down a street that was a 45m/h zone. My bike was hit first and saved my legs from being shattered, but I was thrown onto the hood and my head and shoulder went through the windshield. I suffered a severe concussion and road burn.
Not long after that accident, I got into ANOTHER accident. I was at practice doing drills on a wet, slippery track. I was doing an acceleration, which I have no recollection of doing, and I ran full speed into a friend of mine. I cracked my skull when we hit heads. I instantly went into a Grand Maul seizure and began vomiting. I also suffered memory loss. Since then I have had seizures. For a long time we were unsure of exactly where the seizures came from. I also have a small abnormality with my heart called Vasovagal Syncope. They believed my seizures had something to do with my heart and I had surgery on my chest in my junior year of high school where I had a small metal device implanted in my left breast to record my heart activity. It was then removed my freshman year of college.
Doctors only found out in my 2nd year at Penn State that I had significant scaring on the frontal lobe of my brain. From which accident, they are not sure. It also could have been a combination of the two because the accidents happened so close together. The scarring can explain why I have seizures in long distance races because when I am dehydrated, the scaring can become a problem for neurons to fire through. This can cause a seizure. My high school coach, Nancy Bennett, didn’t know all of this at the time but we did see less problems with shorter events. I wanted to be a miler like Alan Webb and Carrie Tollefson but it didn’t turn out that way so I made the 400 hurdles work.
What was your experience like as a lesbian track and field athlete in the NCAA? Did you ever face discrimination because of your sexuality?
I can not say that I was every outwardly discriminated against because I was a gay athlete. I don’t think Penn State needs anymore problems in its athletic department. But what I CAN say is that I don’t think ANY coaches in the NCAA (to my knowledge) have been appropriately coached or educated on how to deal with homosexual student athletes. I think EVERY University, not just Penn State, could benefit from just ONE educational seminar. Without parents, our coaches become our closest friends and mentors. If they don’t know how to support athletes during such a confusing and fragile time, I think it can be very detrimental.
How has life changed since becoming a professional athlete?
Life as a pro athlete is completely different from that of a college athlete. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d end up as a pro athlete. When I was in high school and college, TEAM was a very big deal to me because there was nothing else. I didn’t think I held value as an individual. There was no greater joy in my college experience than the joy I felt when Penn State won the Triple Crown, (winning XC, Indoor, AND Outdoor conference championships all in one year). I lead the team that year with pride and honor. I never let my jersey touch the floor. As amazing as going pro was, and believe me, it is a blessing I’m not sure I deserve, I really missed my team. I wasn’t only running for me. When I went pro, it was bittersweet. The Brooks Beasts are amazing women and the closest thing to a “team” that I now have.
You recently competed at the Canadian Olympic Trials, missing the Olympic qualifying mark by a little over a second. What did you learn about yourself from that experience?
To be honest, not making the Olympic team was devastating. I’d be lying if I told you I’m ok now. My eyes still fill with tears when I see Olympic commercials. The heart and soul I invest into running cannot be denied by anyone who sees me train. To fall short of my own expectation is a defeat I can not find words to describe. But what I can tell you is that I am NOT broken. I have come too far now to let one loss out of the hundreds that I have won be the race to define me. I sat on the phone with Queen Harrison for some time after my race and she really helped me see the bigger picture: that this moment was not my moment, that God has other plans for me. I CAN’T stop chasing my dream. I don’t have it in me to stop. It may not have worked out the way I had hoped, but I had to find another way. If you want something bad enough, you will ALWAYS find another way. Sometimes we think we know whats best for us, but God has a different plan. You just have to step back and put it in His hands. It hurts, but loss is part of the sport.
You’ve certainly become a role model for younger athletes due in part to your Twitter presence. Who were some of your idols growing up?
I’ve said that I wanted to be an athlete like Alan Webb. However, the first time I met Alan, he was kind of rude to me and I never forgot it. I didn’t grow up thinking I’d ever be like him or Carrie Tollefson, that I’d ever ride a bus with them to a meet, or share rooms with them at hotels. And in a way I didn’t WANT to be like them. Sure, I wanted to be a great athlete, but they were untouchable to me back then. In my eyes, they weren’t like me. They were completely separate entities, like Gods. That’s why twitter actually MEANS something to me and I really try to interact with my fans. I didn’t grow up with an idol. I didn’t grow up with people saying “Fawn you can DO this.”
That’s what my twitter is about. It’s about this small town girl who loved to work hard at running and bettering herself, never really believing it would take her anywhere, and then one day she wakes up to find herself a pro athlete. People have said “Thanks Fawn for talking to me!” And I’m thinking these people are THANKING me for talking to them? Why WOULDNT I? How much effort does it take to be positive, supportive and encouraging? I may never bring home an Olympic Gold medal, but if I can change the way a handful of people view their running or themselves, than I’ve done more for those people than any pro athlete bringing home a medal EVER did for me as a child. I have flaws and struggles but THAT is what makes an idol. Someone who is relatable. I don’t use my twitter to put on some false show. I use twitter to humanize myself. To say, “Guys, I’m just like you…that means YOU can do this too!”
I read that you have been in a serious relationship for the last three years. How has turning pro affected that relationship?
My girlfriend and I are happier than ever. We are about to celebrate our 3 year anniversary in August! She doesn’t really care about running. She cares because it’s what I care about, but outside of that, she is not an athlete and is rather indifferent, which is how I like it. I don’t want to date a fan or my coach. Sometimes it’s nice to come home and NOT feel the weight of my job on my shoulders. Turning pro hasn’t affected my relationship outside of the fact that what I once did for free, I now get paid to do. I suppose I travel much further now when I compete and you have to have very good trust in order to live through that. I’ve heard athletes say, “what happens on the circuit, stays on the circuit.” But that kind of lifestyle is not meant for me. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I guess now, I’m even more excited to come home to her.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Wake, eat, train, eat, sleep, train, eat, eat again, soak in a tub, eat, sleep. And that’s about it.
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a runner?
I’m sure this would be a very different answer if it came from my coach. But mentally, I am very tough. I’ve seen a lot of things growing up and I’ve survived a lot of things that can’t help but make you hard. I train like I mean it, like I want to be a champion every single day. That may not seem like much from the outside, but that mentality is difficult to keep constant.I have many weaknesses and that’s not always a bad thing. It means I have a lot of room for improvement. My hurdling skills are poor and need constant, repetitious work. This is probably my greatest weakness in my race. I also have a problem with focus. On race day, it is easy for me to become distracted.
Have you been doing anything in particular to address those weaknesses?
Yes, I actually have been discussing with my coach about some serious changes we are making to my training. It’s very difficult to focus on the 400 hurdles when you train in a state (Pennsylvania) that has snow sometimes until May.
Do you do anything in particular to train for the mental aspects of racing?
Mental training is very important! Our bodies are in the hands of our coaches but we are responsible for our mental strength. I often read books on mental preparation. I also do Chakras meditation and have consulted with a sports psychologist. One book I HIGHLY recommend is Mind Gym. I’ve read it a few times, very helpful.
What do you love most about the sport?
I can’t say that I love the sport of track and field. The “sport” to me is a lot like organized religion: a lot of politics, rules and regulations and they all miss the divine purpose. I love to run. There is a fire in me that just loves to push my own limits. Whether track and field existed as a “sport” doesn’t really justify my efforts. I love the freedom of running. Competing is what I do to survive, but running is what I do to live. And those are two very different things.
Recently on Salty Running we gave our readers a challenge to love their bodies for what they do rather than trying, but usually failing, to love their bodies for what they look like. Do you ever struggle with body image? Do you have any advice for becoming body proud?
I’m 5’4″ and 110lbs. I was skinny, awkward, had crooked teeth and pasty white skin. I was soooo weird growing up. Every kid feels weird in their own body at one point. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. It’s a part of learning who you are. I STILL struggle with body image. I mean, wouldn’t YOU if you were nearly naked on national television? It all boils down to this: our bodies are simply borrowed. You have to love what God has given you. Our beauty is defined by what shines within us, not how the light shines ON us. It’s hard to see and understand this when you walk by a Cosmo magazine or see Angelina Jolie on television. The sooner you love yourself, the sooner the positive energy from within you will bring positive energy to you.
You can get more of Fawn’s daily inspirations and insights at her Twitter account here.
If you could ask Fawn a question what would you like to know?