Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Houston’s Olympic Day

Houston's Olympic Day will take place on June 23. Courtesy Harris County-Houston Sports Authority

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Nia Abdallah had always loved to watch Marion Jones run and admits she was an unabashed fan.

So imagine Abdallah’s surprise when she was struggling to finish a bit of work at the track one day during the 2004 Olympic Games and happened on Jones stretching. Jones looked up knew what Abdallah was thinking—she was tired and ready to pack it in.

Jones told her to keep going.

That was the moment Abdallah realized the power of Jones’  words; the power of what just a passing comment from an Olympian can do for a younger athlete.

Abdallah, who graduated from Aldine Carver, kept running that day and went on to win the silver medal in Taekwando at those Games, making her the first woman to win an Olympic medal in that event.  

Today the 34-year-old smiles as she remembers that day and how it led to another.

Fast forward to the 2012 Olympic Trials when Paige McPherson beat Abdallah out for a spot on the team. McPherson had been a timid kid a few years before, wanting Abdallah’s autograph and just wanting to be around her. McPherson went on to win the bronze in London.

“It’s cool to see,’’ Abdallah said. “It’s nice to see it come full circle.’’

That’s the thing about Olympians. They share, they pass it on. It’s not just about showing off your medal in a seminar; not just telling a young kid what to do. Instead, Olympians like Abdallah reach out and touch those kids and inspire them, like Jones did for her and she did for McPherson.

About a dozen former Olympians got together Thursday night, in part, to kick off awareness for Olympic Day June 23.

The event is an international day when Olympians from 160 countries celebrate by holding events around the world to celebrate the birth of the modern Games and introduce kids to Olympic sports.

Houston’s Olympic chapter will host its event at Moody Community Center that day from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and more than 20 Olympians will be there to demonstrate their sports to more than 300 children.

“With Olympians, it’s not just about the sport, but about the passion,’’ said former sprinter and University of Houston track coach Leroy Burrell, who won gold in the 4X100-meter relay at 1992 Games. “Olympians get one moment every four years to shine.’’

Burrell is married to former sprinter Michelle Finn Burrell, who won gold in the women’s 4X100 in 1992, too. Their son Cameron, a UH sprinter, is a budding Olympian.

That passion is what those Olympians impart to the kids on Olympic Day. Abdallah, who is a coach and motivational speaker, has participated in every Houston Olympic Day and is amazed at the incredible power of a group of Olympians talking about their sports.

Houston’s list of participants in the June 23 event include Abdallah, the Burrells, Houston Olympians and Para Olympians chapter president Jackie Washington, Olympic bobsledders Seun Adigun and Sam McGuffie, Zina Garrison (tennis) and Jonathan Horton (gymnastics).

Adigun, who competed at UH, is the first athlete to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. The Nigerian-American competed for Nigeria in the 2012 Summer Games in the 100-meter hurdles, then formed the Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation of Nigeria and competed in the bobsled in the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang in February.

If you are interested in participating or helping sponsor Houston’s Olympic Day, contact Meredith Pardue at mpardue@houstonsports.org.


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