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In Inglewood, not far from the 405 freeway and the famed Randy's Donuts, there is a sleepy, palm-lined block of W. Manchester Blvd that houses a small, storefront gym.
The Airport Marina Physical Therapy Center is a very long way from Beijing, China but on Nov. 7, during a reception for Dawn Everhart (née Harper) it was clear that a little Olympic glory still lingers, even here.
Harper was the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist in the Women's 100m Hurdles, with a winning time of 12.54. She also spent the past two years training, sometimes up to three times a week, at the Airport Marina Center, under the guidance of physical therapist Charles Gyden and with assistance from his aids.
At 2pm on Nov. 7, with the California sun high overhead and the whole block bathed in it's yellow-pink light, the Airport Marina Center held a reception and luncheon honoring its returning hero. Behind the gym's exercise machines the back room had been transformed, with clusters of white-clothed tables covered in purple, gold, magenta and green confetti, and red, white and blue balloons lined high, nearly to the room's ceilings. There was a faint mint-like smell in the room—the muffled scent of Bengay muscle cream— something familiar to anyone who has ever been to a track-and-field meet.
When Harper entered the room on the arm of her new husband Craig Everhart, all in attendance stood to applaud, greeting her with buoyant grins and a sense of familial respect. In fact, "family" is exactly how Airport Marina office manager Annette Williams described Harper. Williams, whose husband and young daughter had both come out for the celebration, called Harper "very warm, friendly, respectable."
Gyden spoke first. “God has blessed us to come together on a great occasion,” he said, as hearty choruses of “Amen!” filled the room. “Relax and enjoy the company of each other and our honored guest,” he continued, before Pastor Perry J. Jones of the Messiah Baptist Church on West Adams Blvd, where Harper attends services. Pastor Jones and his first lady Pamela shared a place of honor in the room, seated at a separate table with Harper and her husband.
Pastor Jones stood before the assembled crowd in a dark suit with a royal blue tie and matching silk handkerchief peeking out of his pocket. “Dawn has exhibited Christian behavior, a Christian life,” he said, continuing to bless “this food we are about to consume in the name of Jesus, to whom we pray,”
Jeanette Bolden, Harper’s track coach at UCLA and the Olympic team, presented Harper with a large framed certificate from the school and shared a few sentimental anecdotes about their journey together.
“When I recruited Dawn she wasn’t the fastest hurdler out of high school; she often missed my phone calls because she was asleep… but it’s the spirit in the person that matters,” she said.
Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn was also scheduled to speak on the city’s behalf but he was unable to attend. After Bolden, who herself is a gold medalist from the 1984 Olympics, presented Harper with the certificate of achievement, lunch was served from a buffet table stacked high with soul food favorites like collard greens, ambrosia salad, coleslaw, fried corn bread and baked macaroni and cheese.
Williams stood up midway through the delicious meal, taking a break from passing the cornbread to say “a lot of people are asking where to get this food, so I just wanted to let you know, our patients pitched in. They all cooked.”