St. John’s Olympians Identify Paths to Success On and Off the Field

February 9, 2024

Two Olympians with ties to St. John’s University brought a career’s worth of wisdom to students eager to learn the secrets of success in a lecture sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and tied to Black History Month.

St. John’s Athletics Hall-of-Famer Priscilla Loomis ’11CPS, who competed in the 2016 Olympics for Antigua and Barbuda, joined Aliann Pompey, Director of the Red Storm Women’s Track and Field program and a four-time Olympian, on February 5 for a discussion titled “Journey to the Center of Success,” an examination of the elements needed to achieve on and off the playing field.        

The Olympians recalled their successes and failures before St. John’s students, faculty,  administrators, and staff, reminding those in attendance at the Inclusivity Resource Center that achievement requires equal parts preparation, observation, and motivation.

The motivation can sometimes come from unexpected sources.

“As a child, I was on my way home from school one day and had gotten into a disagreement with one of my friends,” Ms. Pompey recalled. “I was crying. A woman—to this day, I do not know who she was—asked me what was wrong. I told her my friend called me ugly. What did I expect the woman to say? Well, perhaps that I was beautiful or that I was great on the inside.”

“Instead,” Ms. Pompey continued, “she said, ‘So what! So what if your friend said you are ugly?  What is that going to stop you from doing?’ I return to that whenever there is an obstacle or something I do not think I can do. What is stopping me from doing it?”

That chance encounter propelled Ms. Pompey, a native of Georgetown, Guyana, to new heights in track and field. She competed for her country in the 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 Summer Olympics. While an undergraduate at Manhattan College in the Bronx, NY, she won the 400-meter dash at the 2000 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Women’s Track and Field championships.

Ms. Pompey retired from competition after the 2012 Games in London, England, and discovered a meaningful second career as a tutor, coach, and athletic administrator. She was named Director of the Red Storm women’s program in 2021; under her leadership, the team qualified for the NCAA championships in 2022 and 2023.

She told the audience that adaptability has been a key to her success.

“The important part for all of you right now is to identify what moves you, what your passion is,” Ms. Pompey said. “Be open to the greatness that is coming your way. Just do not be married to a single idea of how you are going to get there.”

Ms. Loomis, inducted into the St. John’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022, had no such random encounters. She was, however, laser-focused on track and field from childhood. A native of Wildwood, NJ, she came to St. John’s determined to leave a mark on the women’s program. She did so with school records in the high jump and 60-meter hurdles that still stand. Ms. Loomis won a BIG EAST Conference individual title, was named an All-American several times, and qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in the high jump.

Along the way, she overcame racism, sexism, and questions about her motivation. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Queensland, Australia, an official even recommended that she “lose a few kilograms.”

To all that, she paid no attention. “It would only matter if I gave it power,” Ms. Loomis explained, “and you never allow negativity to have power. People are going to talk. Let them—and then let it fuel you to defeat them.”      

Ms. Loomis retired in 2021, beginning a successful career as a motivational speaker, fitness advocate, entrepreneur, and nonprofit manager. She reminded the audience that the foundation of success in life is often established in college.      

“Everyone’s journey is different,” Ms. Loomis said. “In everything I did, I made sure that I remained focused on being the best athlete on and off the track. But I was also in the coach’s office and in the communications office, and I networked with people, including my professors.”

“You all have this opportunity to be at St. John’s University,” Ms. Loomis continued. “You all are in this chapter of your life now; let it guide you for what is to come.”

Among those in attendance were several members of Ms. Pompey’s women’s team, including distance runner Gabriella Caronia and hurdler Zamira Ysaac. Drawn to the lecture by the Olympic success of the panelists, the pair found larger life lessons in Ms. Loomis and Ms. Pompey’s journeys.

Gabriella, a junior from West Chester, PA, studying Criminal Justice at The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, felt empowered by the conversation.

“It was very inspiring to see the passion they have and the confidence they possess,” Gabriella said. “And not just about competition, but also in what they are doing now. It is awesome.”

Zamira, from Scotch Plains, NJ, said the example of the St. John’s Olympians inspires her to aim high—on the track and in life.

“Listening to them makes you want to excel and to set your goals even higher,” Zamira said. “I’m already wondering what my next goal should be.”      

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