AUSTIN (KXAN) — Marion Jones knows how to talk to children — the Olympian has three of her own.
As soon as the former WNBA player stepped up to the microphone at Delco Elementary School in northeast Austin, she had the full attention of hundreds of students packed into the cafeteria. Adults and parents were also lined up in the back of the room to hear her words of wisdom.
“I want you to say, ‘I am great!'” Jones told the young crowd. When they responded in unison she said, “That’s as loud as y’all can go?” They chanted the phrase much louder the second time around.
Jones, who lives in Pflugerville, was invited to be the main speaker at the school’s Black History Month program.
A bright student named Rodrigo stepped up to the microphone to introduce the former track and field star who won three gold medals and two bronze at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
But she was later stripped of those medals after admitting to steroid use.
Jones spoke in general terms to the children about how everyone makes mistakes, and why it’s important to surround yourself with positive friends. She said that’s the same advice she gives when asked to speak to a room full of Olympic hopefuls.
“Surround yourself with people who think similarly to you,” said Jones. “[People who] think that they want to be great, that they want to work hard so that on the days where your motivation level is not as high — you have people around you that are having good days.”
The 44-year-old told the crowd why it’s important to stop and think before you make a decision because every decision has consequences.
Jones also spoke about what life looked like for her when she was in their shoes: a 6-year-old child being raised by a single mom.
At the time, she was already showing signs of becoming a strong athlete with a determination to win. She turned down an invitation in high school to run on the Olympic Relay Team, continued her education and went on to play basketball at the University of North Carolina. In doing so, Jones became the first person in her family to go to college.
These days, Jones runs her own business and is a personal trainer with Camp Gladiator, a workout program and movement headquartered in Austin.