The two most important colors in Lolo Jones’s life right now are orange and gold.
Gold, of course, because that’s what the three-time Olympian will be chasing in Rio this August, when she makes what will almost certainly be her final campaign for a medal in hurdles after falling short in 2008 and 2012. Jones, 33, is returning to the (indoor) track Saturday at the Camel City Elite Races in Winston-Salem, her first big test since hip surgery in October.
And orange is significant because she signed on in November as a pitchwoman and brand ambassador for Orangetheory Fitness, a chain of fitness studios that specialize in heart-rate-based interval training. In April 2015, the company opened its 200th location; by the end of this year, it expects to have more than 500 nationwide. (In the Charlotte area, three have opened in the past 13 months and two more are on the way.)
Jones – who also is one of just 10 Americans to have competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, having served as a brakewoman on the bobsledding team in 2014 – spoke to us by phone from her home state of Louisiana recently about her current obsessions: Orangetheory, Olympic success and chocolate.
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Q. So how’s your recovery from surgery been?
A. Recovery’s going good. I wasn’t expecting to recover so fast. When I originally found out I had to have surgery, all the doctors said that I wouldn’t be able to run indoors, and then after like three weeks, they saw I was progressing much faster than normal. About a month and a half in, they were really shocked. They said, “We wouldn’t rule out indoors.” So here I am, able to do indoor season.
Q. I know you also had shoulder surgery in 2014, spinal surgery in 2011... you’re probably getting really tired of the operating table.
A. Well, yeah. It’s not the surgery, because you get all those great pain meds. It’s the initial moments when they tell you that you need surgery, and you realize you’re gonna go from ground zero to not being able to walk to having to re-strengthen everything again – that’s the hard part.
Q. Are you going to get to stick around in North Carolina at all before or after the meet?
A. No, unfortunately, once we’re in season, we don’t get to stay longer because every day we have to worry about training. But I’ll grab something when I’m out there. I’ll try to do one thing to see what it’s about, even if it’s just going to one of the best local places for food.
Q. Maybe a little barbecue?
A. (Laughing.) I might have to wait till after the race.
Q. OK, let’s talk about Orangetheory. I’ve taken some classes; it’s pretty intense.
A. They’re so tough, right? People don’t believe me! They think I’m making it up. I’m like, “You guys, seriously – this is my job, to work out for a living. I’ve tried it all. This is about as close as you’ll get to what I do to train for the Olympics. No joke.”
Q. What got you turned on to it?
A. Well, I was in Fort Lauderdale, and that’s where they’re based at, and ... they were talking about how they have a lot of pro athletes do it. Every year I do a different workout to get in shape, because I’m a firm believer in changing things up, or maybe you’re missing out on something that could really improve what you’re lacking. So I tried the workout ... no strings attached, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this workout is so perfect. I could do this three times a week, really get my base up, and have really strong lungs to get me through the harder stuff that I always struggle with.”
Q. Be honest: Do you actually like the color orange?
A. I literally went from zero orange stuff in my closet to now I have orange shoes, orange workout stuff – I think all the workout stuff I’ve been wearing lately has been orange. It’s a good color, an energy color. To be honest, I didn’t even know what the orange in the OrangeTheory meant. When I went in and did the first workout, I was just trying to work out. I was like, “Oh that’s cool, they chose orange as like their power color. Cool.” (In a nutshell: The trainers aim to get participants to get their heart rates into the “Orange Zone” for 12-20 minutes of an hourlong class, consider to be optimal for calorie-burning.) I didn’t know it meant ... that’s where you want to push and be in the zone ... and all the science behind it.
Q. Tell me how you’re feeling about Rio.
A. I’m taking it one day at a time, because it can be overwhelming. I’m just focused on my goals at hand, goals for the week or the month. I’m trying to really make sure I’m focusing on getting rid of all the weaknesses I have, whether that’s working on my hamstrings – because I’ve had multiple hamstring tears – or this year I’m really focused on my sleep and recovery. I’m focusing on fixing every little thing I can. I feel like a lab rat. I’m always sending stuff to the Olympic Sports Med (the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Sports Medicine Division), they’re evaluating it, and then they tell me, “OK, change this; do this instead.” They’ve been really picky about what I’ve done post-surgery, and they’ve watched me like a hawk. So yeah, whatever they tell me, I just do that to a T.
Q. How much pressure are you feeling heading into what will probably be your last Summer Games as a hurdler?
A. I mean, I don’t really have the pressure on me since I had such a bad year last year. My pressure comes from the fact that obviously I’d like to have Olympic success. But at the same time, wherever the chips may fall, I have peace with it, because I’ve worked so hard. There hasn’t been a moment where I’ve backed off. I’ve committed my life to this. A lot of people don’t know that, but I’ve given up so many opportunities. My life would have been completely different, and probably in a better way. The amount of stress that training for the Olympics has put in my life ... sometimes has not been desirable. So it’s a 24-hour thing, you know, not being able to eat certain foods and enjoy somebody’s birthday dinner because you can’t eat that. Or going to bed super-early or doing this instead of that. It’s quite dedicated. But with that being said, whatever happens, I know that I’ve done everything possible. ... That gives me great peace, knowing how hard I fought for this.
Q. Those “certain foods” – what would those be? What’s your biggest craving?
A. Oh, I just love chocolate. I could have chocolate every day. Whether it’s chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake. (After my Olympic career is over) that’s probably one of the things I will have is ... dessert every day.
Camel City Elite Races
When: Races begin at 9 a.m. Saturday. Elite runners – including Olympians Lolo Jones (hurdles), Ashton Eaton (decathlon), Shannon Rowbury (middle-distance) and David Oliver (hurdles) – will compete beginning at around 2 p.m. Action will continue until about 10 p.m.
Where: JDL Fast Track, 2505 Empire Drive, Winston-Salem.
Tickets: $10 for adults and $8 for students 12 and older. Kids 11 and younger are admitted free.