Featured image courtesy of Dr. Grace-Ann Dinkins.
As International Women’s Month comes to a close, we turn our eyes to Liberia’s first female Olympian, representing Liberia three times, Dr. Grace-Ann Dinkins.
Dinkins represented Liberia at the 1984, 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Her Olympic journey began, after the University of Liberia invited the runner to a qualifying track meet. After that invitation, she would become the youngest Liberian and first woman to make the nation’s Olympic team. Both bookworm and student-athlete, the opportunity brought a newfound realization. Dinkins discovered that anything she set her mind to could become a reality.
Dinkins recalls her fondest memory from her first Olympic experience in 1984, “…standing in a washroom brushing my teeth next to a huge Eastern European bodybuilder, sharing toothpaste and smiles. We didn’t speak each other’s languages, but we did share an excitement about being part of the Olympic family and being part of the Olympic village. My weirdest memory was having my inner cheek swabbed for cells to confirm that I was indeed female…at that time, males posing as females and females being androgenized were all the rage. Actually running the 100 meters was a blur that passed so quickly, it is hard to recapture that memory.”
Dinkins shares that female athletes tend to obtain much success and often use their athletic experience as a rehearsal for life. She believes female athletes can be self-directed and ruthless in pursuing perfection within their sport. Herself included. As a result, female athletes can miss the bigger picture. Their future life-path and how they can influence others for good gets overlooked. However, Dinkins believes female athletes are good at knowing when to redirect their energies to the next stage of their careers.
1996 Liberia Olympic Team (L-R Dr. Grace Ann Dinkins, Kouty Mawehn, Sayon Cooper, Lelica Zazaboi, Eddie Neufville, Robert Dennis).
Although Dinkins retired after the 2000 Olympic games, she remains a help and inspiration to many Liberian athletes. For example, former Liberia Olympian, Phobay Kutu-Akoi cites Dinkins as a major supporter. In this way, Dinkins continues her contribution to Liberian athletics. Especially for women and girls. When asked how Liberia could use solidarity to improve women’s sports in the country, Dinkins finds that it cannot be forced. Rather, it must be organic and aligned with proper timing.
“Throwing money, or time, or energy into a cause or goal does not guarantee success, and the obstacles are truly daunting. I know this from many years of trying, and failing more times than I like to remember, to help Liberian athletes progress to the next level in sports. Sometimes, I’m sure, I got in my own way. I’m open to listening to people, more than suggesting what ‘ought to be done.’ Someone will come up with the right formula, some day is my opinion. And I am willing to back that person.”
Dinkins advises that success in this new internet-driven world will require encouragement and support between women. In addition, forming small online communities while establishing a social media presence can help. “These are some of the things that we, as Liberian women, can do to help each other succeed. And, for goodness’ sake, we don’t need to tear each other down, verbally or digitally… Also, maintain your dignity and respect on the internet! Be professional all the way around – 360 degrees!”
Dinkins traveled to Liberia, this past January. She visited on behalf of the African Investors Group Foundation, an initiative that focuses on underprivileged girls. The foundation has selected a Liberian all girl academy to sponsor. “We are excited to be offering them support in the form of additional staff, tutoring for exams and learning computer coding,” Dinkins shares. The foundation’s website will launch mid-April and update the general public on its progress. For now, Dinkins humbly shares the following sound advice.
“Grab every day as if it was your last. Use it well. Once you put your feet on the ground in the morning, you have made the choice to live. Honor that choice. Give yourself an hour a week to brainstorm for ways to achieve your dreams, and no one else’s. It’s tempting to piggyback on other’s dreams, but you will eventually run out of fuel and get exhausted.”
“Go for the inspiration that comes from within yourself. Smile often. Make kindness a necessary practice in your life. Trust God’s leading. Be fearless.” -Dr. Grace-Ann Dinkins