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Lashinda Demus: A hurdler ... a juggler

Lashinda Demus was used to jumping hurdles — 10 of them in every race.

But this was ridiculous.

She had thought having kids would be simple. She always had been drawn to children. She baby-sat frequently as a teen.

“I loved being around kids,” Demus said. “I mean, what could be so hard about that? But when I had them I realized: It’s hard.”

Making it a bigger hurdle was the fact Demus had her twin boys at an awkward time in her career — the year before the Olympics. By 2007, the 25-year-old Columbia resident had turned into a rising star.

When she moved from California to Columbia to run track for USC in 2001, Demus was a decent prospect. But she became so good in college that she turned pro early. In 2006, she was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400-meter hurdles.

Then she took a year off to have the twins.

Now Demus is trying to regain that No. 1 ranking. And, if she is going to make a good living in her sport, she needs to get it back. Few outside the track world pay much attention to the sport except during the Olympics. To increase her earnings potential, Demus needs to win a medal in August.

“She wants to be the best hurdler who has ever lived,” said her coach, Sylvaneus Hepburn, a former Olympic sprinter for The Bahamas. “She wants to break the American and then the world record in her event. And she’s got the talent to do all of that.”

First, though, Demus must qualify for the U.S. Olympic team at the track and field trials, which begin today in Eugene, Ore. The women’s 400-meter hurdles final is Sunday; the top three finishers earn a berth in Beijing.

Demus’ preparations included a 7:45 training session one morning with a small group of hurdlers and sprinters at a public park in Columbia. The session was the start of a typical day. Demus’ husband, Jamel Mayrant, takes care of the twins in the morning. Then, after practice, Demus goes home to care for them in the afternoon and evening while Mayrant works at his job as a recreational supervisor at a juvenile prison. They eventually have a quick dinner together before putting the twins to bed and falling asleep, exhausted.

“We don’t do much of anything other than care for them and love them,” Demus said. “We’re doing good if we get to a movie.”

Demus says she is often asked why she hasn’t hired a nanny, given her rigorous training schedule and Mayrant’s job. Cost is the biggest issue, she said. They have sent the twins, Duaine and Dontay, to Lashinda’s parents in California for the periods immediately before and after the trials.

It’s a balancing act, as any parent knows. Demus misses mothering the twins when they’re gone, but she also had a big training breakthrough the last time they stayed with her parents.

Demus and Mayrant have been together for five years, although they weren’t married when she got pregnant. “I was depressed for a while because it (the pregnancy) happened when it happened,” Demus said. “And then I just got over it. People go through far worse things. And how do you consider kids something bad?”

In late 2007, Demus and Mayrant married.

“We basically wanted to get right with God,” Mayrant said. “It made us stronger as a family.”

The twins have proved strong-willed, healthy and active. They walked at 10 months and generally rule the house except at naptime.

“They’re pretty stubborn,” Demus said. “Then again, my parents say I was stubborn when I was little.”

Demus, who is 5-foot-7, gained 50 pounds during the pregnancy, but, at the urging of her mother, Yolanda, she began walking three weeks after giving birth last June. A week after that, her mom told her to start jogging again.

“It’s all my mom’s fault,” Demus said, smiling.

“I think she’s all the way back,” said Yolanda Demus, who is a former U.S. national team member. “I think she’s going to be better.”

If Demus makes the Olympic team, she hopes for a better outcome than 2004.

She was on world-record pace at the U.S. Olympic trials that year before hitting the ninth hurdle, stumbling and finding herself in fourth. She finished third, barely making the squad. Then, in the Olympics in Greece, she had a bad race in her semifinal and missed qualifying for the final.

“I slowed down at the line because I thought I was eliminated anyway,” Demus said. “It was a big mistake.”

Demus promises she will not repeat it. When asked what thebest race of her career has been, she glanced at the twins, then looked up.

“The best race of my life,” she said, “hasn’t come yet.”

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