Archdeacon: LaVonna’s legacy -- Olympic medalist to ‘track mom’

University of Texas track coach Edrick Floreal with his family: wife LaVonna, daughter Mimi and son EJ.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
University of Texas track coach Edrick Floreal with his family: wife LaVonna, daughter Mimi and son EJ. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

After career ended abruptly, T-M grad now winning at life.

“She left the Olympic Stadium track in tears and terrible pain. She was limping and clutching her lower stomach, where a suspected muscle tear had all but ripped apart her Olympic dream.

“Not stopping at the athletes’ cool down area, she disappeared into the bowels of the stadium and soon her hurtful sobs could be heard echoing down the deserted hallway.”

That was 25 years ago at the 1996 Olympic Trials in Atlanta. I was there that day and that’s how I began my story of LaVonna Martin Floreal’s farewell to the Olympic stage.

And yet she’d refused to submit that day, even with that injury that had come a month earlier and had worsened just three days prior, so much so that a doctor advised her to skip her attempt at making her third straight Olympic Games as a 100-meter hurdler.

After debuting at the 1988 Seoul Games, the Trotwood-Madison grad had won a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games and then come back home to a hero’s welcome in Dayton.

Five months later, she married Canadian Olympian Edrick Floreal and in March of 1995 she had their first child, a radiant son who bore his dad’s name, but whom they called EJ.

The pregnancy had been tough for LaVonna. Edrick said she gained 60 pounds and had to retrain her body to hurdle.

Then too she refused to submit.

On the eve of her delivery, she had walked two miles. Two days after giving birth, she was walking again and in eight days she was doing sit-ups.

But becoming an elite athlete again proved to be a herculean task.

“I wanted to be a mother, but I hadn’t realized what all that meant while I also tried to train,” she said. “We’d bring EJ out to the track when I trained and I was nursing him too and it just wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be.”

LaVonna Martin Floreal and her son EJ formed their bond early. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
LaVonna Martin Floreal and her son EJ formed their bond early. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Then came the injures and that muscle tear and finally that gritty effort in Atlanta.

“It feels like someone is pushing a pen in there,” LaVonna told me after her sobs had subsided that day.

She had finished sixth in her heat, but was 24th of the 24 advancing hurdlers who’d run in the quarterfinals the next day.

As she left the stadium with her smiling, chubby-cheeked son in her arms and a more serious looking husband at her side, LaVonna, you sensed, was at a turning point.

The next day she was forced to withdraw from her race just minutes before the start. And for the most part, that was her last shining moment on the big stage.

While she had another beautiful and rewarding calling ahead of her – after EJ, she would have daughter Mimi, and she’d become an honored school teacher, and the all-embracing Mama Flo to the track athletes who competed for Edrick as his head coaching career went from Stanford to Kentucky and now at the University of Texas – LaVonna admits it took her a “long, long time” to realize her new role:

“In the beginning I never saw myself without track and field. I couldn’t imagine myself not competing.”

That’s understandable because she had been unparalleled competitor for over a decade.

She had single-handedly lifted Trotwood-Madison to back-to-back state titles in 1983 and ’84, scoring all her team’s points.

She became an NCAA champion and a 14-time All American at the University of Tennessee.

Along with her Olympic efforts, she won a gold medal at the Pan American Games in 1987 and a world indoor championship in the 60 meter hurdles in 1993.

1993: Lavonna Martin-Floreal slides over the hurdles at the Mobil One Track and Field event. Mandatory Credit: Tony Duffy /Allsport
1993: Lavonna Martin-Floreal slides over the hurdles at the Mobil One Track and Field event. Mandatory Credit: Tony Duffy /Allsport

“After the ’96 Trials, it probably took seven or eight years for me to realize it’s not about me anymore,” she said. “But once we had Mimi, I knew I was no longer LaVonna the athlete. I was Edrick’s wife. I was EJ’s and Mimi’s mom.”

Her transition was wondrous said her own mother, Brenda Martin, who has been married 55 years to husband Lefty, himself a track legend as an athlete, coach and meet official.

“She’s a great mother, I’ll tell you,” said Brenda, who raised four successful children herself. “I want to say she’s a better mother than me, how’s that?”

LaVonna said while her mother and her maternal grandmother gave her the “foundation” for being a mom, she also thinks: “I was fortunate because I was able to expand myself with track and be out in the world and meet so many different people and experience so many cultures.

“And living in California all those years developed me, too. I grew up with Black mamas, so I had the element of Black mommy-hood in me. But our children have grown up in a more suburban type lifestyle and that’s totally different than what I experienced growing up.”

Both children showed themselves to be talented athletes. Mimi played soccer and EJ played basketball, including spending three years deep on the bench of University of Kentucky teams that made three NCAA Tournaments and two Final Fours.

Although Edrick told LaVonna their son was “a freak of nature” when it came to his track potential, EJ initially wanted nothing to do with it.

Olympic hopeful EJ Floreal flanked by parents who have quite the track resumes themselves. His mom, LaVonna Martin Floreal, single-handedly won Trotwood Madison High two state titles when she scored all her team’s points. She won the 1997 NCAA high hurdles title while at Tennessee and competed in two Olympic Games: Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona  in 1992. where she won the silver medal in 100 meter hurdles. EJ’s dad, Edrick Floreal, is the greatest-ever long jumper and triple jumper Canada has ever produced. He competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics and now is in Canada’s Athletic Hal of Fame. The former head coach at Stanford and Kentucky he’s now the head track coach  at the University of Texas. CONTRIBUTED
Olympic hopeful EJ Floreal flanked by parents who have quite the track resumes themselves. His mom, LaVonna Martin Floreal, single-handedly won Trotwood Madison High two state titles when she scored all her team’s points. She won the 1997 NCAA high hurdles title while at Tennessee and competed in two Olympic Games: Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992. where she won the silver medal in 100 meter hurdles. EJ’s dad, Edrick Floreal, is the greatest-ever long jumper and triple jumper Canada has ever produced. He competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics and now is in Canada’s Athletic Hal of Fame. The former head coach at Stanford and Kentucky he’s now the head track coach at the University of Texas. CONTRIBUTED

“It probably had something to do with some of the pressure that comes with being in this family,” EJ said the other day. “There’s all they’ve done or still are doing, whether it’s coaching, athletically or even as an official.”

His dad – who was a five-time NCAA champion at Arkansas and competed in the Seoul and Barcelona Olympics – is considered the greatest triple jumper and long jumper in Canadian history and is in the Athletics Canada Hall of Fame.

His grandfather, Lefty Martin, a 1963 Central State grad, was the first Marauder to ever break the 10 second mark in the 100-yard dash and is in CSU’s Athletics Hall of Fame. He and Brenda started the Northwest Track club 43 years ago and since then over 300 of its members have competed in college, including four this season.

And at age 79, Lefty is still officiating college track meets and this weekend he’s refereeing the MEAC at North Carolina A&T.

Over the years he would tell his grandson he should be running track and the other day EJ said his grandmother called him and told him “that’s why God put you here.”

Whether the nudge came from heaven or home, EJ finally decided to try track as a college senior. He ran for his dad and since then – with Edrick as his coach – he’s advanced in spurts, but suffered continuous setbacks as he dealt with injuries and his own career “sabotage,” as he put it.

Through it all he said his mom was “my rock.”

“She’s the one who held me together when I was ready to give up on myself and go down this dark path,” he said. “Who knows where I’d be if my parents hadn’t believed in me. "

That belief has finally paid off.

At 26, EJ is now on the Canadian national team and is positioning himself to make the Olympic team that will compete in the upcoming Tokyo Games.

He has the fastest 200 meter time (20.29) in Canada this season, the eighth fastest in the world and is now clocking faster times almost every time he runs.

“I know I’m happy for my parents and I’m happy for myself and everybody else that’s been part of it, but this isn’t close to what it can be,” he said. “There’s so much more I have to learn, so much more I have to give and so much more to do.”

Love at first sight

LaVonna Martin got far more out of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics than she ever imagined.

When she walked into her living area in the Athletes’ Village one day, there was Edrick Floreal talking to 400-meter runner Denean Howard.

“We didn’t know each other, but our eyes met,” LaVonna said the other day.

It was love at first sight, something she explained to me in the past: “Right off, I heard the Lord telling me: ‘There’s the man for you. There’s your future husband.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Pa-leeeeeze! I’m here to win a medal, not mess with a man!’”

Before the Games ended, Edrick asked her to marry him and she accepted. Five months later they wed in Trotwood.

“There was just something about him that made me feel safe,” she now explains. “I guess that’s the only word. And now, all these years later, he still makes me feel safe.”

But as she thought about it, she knew she should add a proviso:

“The beginning parts of our marriage were challenging because Edrick and I didn’t know each other. We had to figure out how to mesh. We were from different backgrounds. I was American and he was foreign (born in Haiti, raised in Canada).

“Would I marry him again? Absolutely.

“Would I do it as quickly? Maybe not.”

She started to laugh: “One thing I do know. I wouldn’t tell my daughter or son to do it just like that.”

Brenda had been in Barcelona when LaVonna won the silver medal and Edrick’s heart:

“She married a great guy. He’s committed to his family. He’s committed to his children and he loves track. He’s a great, great coach.”

And LaVonna said her track career actually benefitted her home life:

“All that stuff I learned as LaVonna the athlete translated over to being a great partner for my husband because I understand his job and it’s helped me be a very good mom, too.”

And just as EJ found his mom to be his rock, LaVonna, who’s now 54, said she’s developed a special bond with Mimi, who graduated from the University of Louisville and lives there:

“I’m really good friends with my daughter. And that’s amazing considering the back and forth we had when she was a teenager. Our friendship has blossomed so much.”

While Mimi learned to appreciate her mom, LaVonna, in turn, said: “I respect her. She’s taught me so many things. And face it, I’m old and it’s much harder to open yourself up to learning when you’re older.

“But as a parent, being open goes a long way in building your relationship, particularly for later on. That’s how it is for us now.”

And Brenda is moved by that:

“The way she has raised the children is her legacy. That’s what she’ll leave behind.”

LaVonna Martin Floreal with her son EjJ who was on the University of Kentucky basketball team for three seasons and now has become an elite track athlete hoping to run for Canada in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. CONTRIBUTED
LaVonna Martin Floreal with her son EjJ who was on the University of Kentucky basketball team for three seasons and now has become an elite track athlete hoping to run for Canada in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. CONTRIBUTED

Hugs for mom

If this were a Mother’s Day like some in the past, EJ said he’d make his mom breakfast.

“I can whip it up in the kitchen,” he laughed. “I got me some game there. I’m an omelet specialist. Tell me what you want and it’s gonna be perfect.

“For my mom, she likes her veggies. So there’s going to be some artichokes and mushrooms and probably a little sausage in there, too. I’d season it up and make some French toast, pancakes, waffles, whatever she wants. And then I’d just give her an old fashioned mimosa to go with it.”

Although it sounds good, LaVonna is back in Trotwood today.

She flew in from Austin to spend a few days with her mom. Because of the pandemic, she said she hadn’t seen her parents in year. They’d been especially cautious until they got their vaccinations.

“I can’t wait to give my mom a hug,” LaVonna said.

Back in Texas, EJ knows he’s already given his mom a better gift than eggs with veggies:

“She told me she just likes to see me keep doing what I’m doing. She says that’s the best Mother’s Day gift. It’s the only gift she wants. She just wants to see me keep building and adding and achieve my full potential, whatever it is.”

And no place is that happening more than on the track, a place LaVonna and Edrick and the rest of the family love so much.

“We are all thrilled as a track family to finally have a person – an elite athlete – carry on the tradition,” said LaVonna, whose laments following Atlanta now seem long gone.

“I’m excited about all this. I’ve been waiting a long time to be a track mom.”

Lavonna Martin, Pan Am gold medal winner, cruises through the Trotwood Heritage Days Parades as the Grand Marshall in Sept. 1987. STAFF PHOTO/TY GREENLEES
Lavonna Martin, Pan Am gold medal winner, cruises through the Trotwood Heritage Days Parades as the Grand Marshall in Sept. 1987. STAFF PHOTO/TY GREENLEES

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