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Post-Olympics, Gwen Torrence living her true dream

12:36 PM, Jul 19, 2012   |    comments
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Gwen Torrance

DECATUR (WXIA) -- News reports and magazines document her power and talent. It was a gift Gwen Torrence almost didn't realize.

"I remember telling my coach, I'm not going to college, I'm ready to get out of high school and I'm going to cosmetology school," Torrence explained.

But her family and coach pushed.

"You got this opportunity to go, you can't pass it up being Black female coming from... where you come from," her coach told Gwen, then a high-school student, when telling her to look beyond her life in subsidized housing projects.

After initially declining, the Decatur native took that full scholarship at the University of Georgia. Track wasn't her motivation. It was another athletic star: Herschel Walker.

"My goal was to go marry Hershell. Forget about track. Hershell was my man," Torrence said with a laugh.

The first in her family to go to college, Gwen's focus was on rising to the top as an NCAA champion while studying education.

"I used to work so hard," she said.

World championships followed. Then she reached the pinnacle, the Olympics in Seoul.

"When I did make the Olympic team in '88," she explained, "Everyone was like, 'Who is this little girl from GA?'"

Torrence didn't medal in Korea. Barcelona in 1992 was her time. She won two gold medals and a silver.

Then she won gold again and bronze. And it was all in the intensity of her hometown.

"Atlanta was a lot of pressure on me," Torrence explained.

After 1996, Gwen was done.

"I couldn't train another year. I couldn't do it. I tried in 1997 and the spark was gone," she said.

Torrence closed that chapter and gave away her Olympic memorabilia. The uniform went to a local restaurant. Her medals hang at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

"Just me and my family would see it if it were in my house," she explained.

Rather than athletic shoes, post-Olympics, she's in stilettos, pursuing her childhood dream.

"I started out being a shampoo assistant. And everyone was like, 'Gwen, you're an Olympic gold medalist. You don't have to shampoo for anyone.' I'm like I want to learn from the bottom and learn from the best," Torrence explained.

After working in other salons, the mother of two opened her own a year and a half ago: Bangz & Tanglez in Lithonia.

"Track made me feel financially good, hair makes me feel good as a person," Torrence said.

"I've lived my dream. I've done something that God blessed me with in track. I'm doing something I want to do now and I'm blessed," Torrence said while fighting back tears. "I did what I promised my mom when I was a little girl, that I would take care of her."

And she did, until her mother passed away last year.

"I've lived out everything I could possibly do. I can't do any more. This is it for me. This is life. I've lived it all. I have a son, I have a daughter," Torrence said. "I've done everything I wanted to do. If I die tomorrow, I can die with a smile on my face, I know I lived life right. I tried to do people the best I could do them."

In fact, some clients don't know of her triumphs on the track. Her humility takes over. 

"My husband is always saying, 'Gwen, you're in the history books!' But because I'm just Gwen from the projects of East Lake Meadows, I don't dwell on it."

"I just know I came from the lowest of the low and to the highest of the high," Torrence explained.

Today, Torrence sees herself just as a fan of track and field.  

 "I don't keep up with it like I'm trying to relive the moment," Torrence said.

But she readily admits, watching the U.S. Trials and Olympics takes her back to the start line.

"When I see the girls moving from side to side or that look and mentality, it's like I'm about to throw up. I'm sick to my stomach for the race to go off. But I just always wish for the best person to win."

And for Olympian, that's the dark horse.

"I'm always with the underdog, because that was me," Torrence said.

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