SAN DIEGO – The U.S. has not won gold in the women’s 100 meters since Sweetwater High School grad Gail Devers did it for the second time back in 1996.
The fact that she ran while battling two debilitating diseases make her victories even more remarkable.
“I was down to 80 pounds and there was a problem,” the three-time Olympic gold medalist Devers said.
For almost three years in her younger years, Devers, now 54, suffered through an undiagnosed case of Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder which causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones. Devers’ symptoms included extreme weight loss, insomnia and bulging eyes.
Yet, she still had a decorated international career throughout the five Olympic games in which she competed.
“I covered up my mirrors,” she said. “I stopped looking at myself because I couldn’t stand the way that I looked. The thought that I got to go out here in public and people are going to ask me what’s wrong because this is not the person I remember seeing and I have no answers.
“The hardest part for me about the Graves’ disease was not knowing.”
Feeling like she could breathe again after her official diagnosis, Devers thought she had her life on track. But it wasn’t until about 30 years later, she discovered she also had something called Thyroid Eye Disease.
“I remember running races and it was hard to see,” she said. “It was like looking through clouds and people were like, ‘How are you running?’ I’m like, ‘Because I’m just running in rhythm, I’m not trying to look at what I’m doing.’”
According to studies, about 50% of people who have Graves’ disease develop Thyroid Eye Disease as well.
Now as an advocate, and especially with July being Graves Disease Awareness Month, Devers hopes to spread the word about her medical conditions in hopes of others detecting it earlier than she did.
As far as the Olympics in Tokyo, even with U.S. Trials Champion Sha’Cari Richardson suspended, Devers would love to see Team USA bring back the gold medal in the 100 meters for the first time since Devers struck gold in 1996.
“I hope we bring back not just the gold in the women’s 100m but a lot of gold and some fantastic times that hopefully, records are meant to be broken, so I’m hoping we’re going to break those records and keep going,” she said.
The Olympics begin July 23 and run through Aug. 8.