Jun 10, 2021 | Atlanta, GA
Chaunté Lowe is an alumna of the School of Economics, a four-time Olympian, and the women’s high jump American record holder. She's also a breast cancer survivor, something she attributes to being unusually proactive about her health.
Although Lowe was younger than the average age for breast cancer (55–74) and incredibly fit and healthy (as Olympians tend to be), she still checked her breasts weekly in the shower.
"[I] know the exact day the lump showed up," she shared in a post to her 36,000 Instagram followers, "and still it took 9–10 months for medical personnel to take me seriously because of my age." In another post she wrote, "Please keep pressing the Dr. until you are satisfied! I was given the 'all clear' and told to come back in 6 years ... If I would have listened to the professional advice of my Dr. I would have not made it to 6 years."
After realizing how critical it was to be an advocate for her own health and how it saved her life, Lowe made it her mission to spread that message to others. So, she decided to do something crazy: attempt to make her fifth Olympic team for the Tokyo 2021 Games to bring attention to her story. Her platform of choice? Social media, of course.
"Every other time, I've run for myself, for my kids, for my family, for my country. But this time, it's not about me," she said in an interview on Today. "It's more about any woman, any person, that could contract this disease. If they hear my story, maybe they get checked. I know that it will save lives."
Competing as a high jumper in four Olympic Games — her first in Athens in 2004 as a second-year student at Georgia Tech — is already far above the ordinary. The average career for track and field athletes is about three to four years. But Lowe has been competing for two decades. During that time, she set the national indoor and outdoor high jump records (6 ft. 7½ in. and 6 ft. 8½ in., respectively), won a bronze medal in Beijing, and gave birth to three children (the oldest of whom is now breaking high jump records of her own in high school).
Coming back from breast cancer, chemotherapy, and a double mastectomy, however, will be Lowe's toughest battle yet. She was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer in the summer of 2019. Soon thereafter, the pandemic hit. With a compromised immune system from the cancer treatments, she had to be extra careful, so she built a makeshift high jump and started training for the Tokyo Olympics in her backyard.
This resilience is something Lowe attributes to being an NCAA student-athlete at Georgia Tech. “The lessons that I’ve learned both on the track and in the classroom shaped and molded many of my leadership processes, my resilience, and how I face difficult circumstances,” she shared on social media.
Associate Professor Usha Nair-Reichert recalled how Lowe’s athletic drive made her a stronger scholar. "She brought the same heart and determination she displayed on the track to every aspect of her life," Nair-Reichert said. "We were all proud of Chaunté when she qualified for the Olympics in 2004. Now, nearly 20 years later, we're still proud to call her an Econ alumna."
In March 2021, Lowe jumped in her first competition in two years, and her first since her cancer diagnosis. In an emotional Instagram video, she teared up, reporting that she exceeded her goal by one inch. "We are going to try to go all the way to Tokyo, all the way!" she exclaimed.
The Track and Field trials will take place June 18 in Eugene, Oregon, and the standard to compete is high. Right now, Lowe is listed as “Not Qualified” with a high jump of 1.80 meters, slightly below the current qualifying standard of 1.87 meters.
But whether or not she competes in the Olympic trials or at Tokyo, it's safe to say Lowe has reached her goal. She is an inspiration not only as a mother, Olympian, and American record holder, but also as a health advocate and cancer survivor who invited the world inside her personal journey when so many others would have shut it out. Even without social media, the message of Chaunté Lowe's life rings out loud and clear: through all things — persevere.
(And don't forget to check your breasts.)