When DeeDee Trotter steps onto the track of Olympic Stadium on Friday, her mind will momentarily drift back to the States, back to the UCF track and field stadium and back to the women of the Knights’ track and field team.
“Every time I raced (this year), I had them in the back of my mind saying, `I’ve got to do good so I don’t let the girls down.’ I think that’s been a driving force behind me,” Trotter said. “It means so much to me to have had to opportunity to be an inspiration to these girls. They have been an inspiration to me.
Trotter, who trained with head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert for the last eight months at UCF, will compete in the 400 meters Friday. She is not the only athlete Smith Gilbert has helped earn an appearance at this year’s Summer Games.
Current Knight Afia Charles became UCF’s first track and field Olympian when she was invited to compete as a member of Antigua’s national team. Charles’ mother, Ruperta, ran for the country in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, so her daughter has dual citizenship.
Charles and Trotter run in round one of the 400 meters at 7 a.m. EDT hoping to advance to Saturday’s semifinals (3:05 p.m.) and finals (4:10 p.m.). NBC will begin airing coverage of track and field events Friday at 10 a.m.
Trotter earned a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens with the 4×400 relay team. She spent much of 2009 and 2010 still battling effects from a knee injury but finally broke through this past year after moving to Orlando to train with Smith Gilbert. She credits much of her success to the UCF track and field team.
“I was trying to transition myself into a new level of motivation because I was down. When I got here, they worked so hard and their level of work ethic and being out here with young ladies that are extremely talented, they just lifted me up,” Trotter said. “They looked up to me in a way that I felt a sense of responsibility to them. When I’m running, they are part of the motivation that keeps me wanting to do better.
“They have made this journey even better because watching them grow, sharing my knowledge, being able to work with them on a day-to-day basis, it was definitely destiny that we came together.”
The Knights have been equally as inspired by their mentor. This year, four student-athletes competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials capped by Aurieyall Scott’s appearance as one of two collegiate athletes who advanced to the nationally televised 200-meter finals.
Trotter has high expectations for the track and field team and believes that soon, the Knights will be adding a national championship to their many conference titles.
“The real potential of this team – I’m a professional track runner, I run on championship teams, Tennessee was a championship team when I was there, I know what champions look like and this team has it. And I’m not just saying that because I train with them every day,” Trotter said. “I’m saying that because they have the talent, they have the work ethic and they have the coach.”