Three-time Olympian, District 2 Resident and Orange County Parks and Recreation employee is motivating kids to be the best they can be
By District 2 Orange County Commissioner Rod Love
For Delloreen Ennis, participating in athletic endeavors has always been her greatest joy. A competitive athlete who competed in three Olympics, she recently settled into the Central Florida region as a Recreation Specialist at Orange County Parks and Recreation, and local children are benefiting from her high-energy, motivational approach to helping them reach their full potential not only as athletes but also as good citizens.
Ennis came to the United States from Jamaica in 1995 on a full track scholarship. She attended Abilene Christian University in Texas and graduated in 1999, at which point she became a professional track and field athlete. She excelled at the 100-meter hurdles, an event known for its extreme speed, pinpoint technique and photo finishes.
“I went to a college program where the coaches took the time to work with us individually,” said Ennis. “My coach in hurdles saw the potential in me and put the extra time in to help me master the event. I told him I wanted to qualify for the Olympics, so that was our goal.”
Ennis qualified for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and felt a great deal of pride in representing her country of Jamaica. At that time, the 100-meter hurdles was an extremely competitive event, so Ennis had to be at her best just to qualify.
“The thing about hurdles is you have to be very precise because every millisecond matters,” she stressed. “You need to be focused, but that’s hard to do when you’re experiencing your first Olympics.”
In order to remain focused, Ennis used a little mantra: “I’m here to perform … this is not fun … this is business.” It worked. She made it to the finals and came in fourth, a huge-but-bittersweet accomplishment, missing out on a medal by one place. The overall experience, however, was unforgettable.
“The opening ceremony was breathtaking,” recalled Ennis. “You’re walking into the stadium with your country’s flag and that’s when it hits you when you realize you actually made it to the Olympics, and that’s an amazing feeling. But once the competition starts, everyone’s in their zone and you know you’re going out there to represent your country, family and obviously yourself.”
Ennis wound up qualifying for three Olympics – Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 – and placed fourth, fifth and fourth respectively. The result in Beijing was particularly difficult for her because six runners crossed the finish line at the same time, but Ennis turned her torso and literally twisted herself out of a medal.
“It took some time for me to get over that one because it was my best opportunity to medal,” she said. “I was running really fast that year and ran No. 2 in the world. I was in top shape.”
With bronze and silver medals from World Championships, and a gold medal from the Pan American Games, the current Ocoee resident has won her share of medals, and she looks back on her Olympic experiences with fondness and pride. The one thing that stands out to her the most, however, is the opening ceremony in Beijing.
“I’ve never experienced anything quite like that,” she said. “It blew my mind how creative and perfectly synchronized that whole thing was. I don’t think there will ever be another opening ceremony like that.”
In 2013, at the age of 38, Ennis decided to retire from the sport that gave her so much. She came to Orlando to be close to some friends and a short flight away from her family in Jamaica. Now 43, Ennis is enjoying her job at Orange County Parks and Recreation, working with kids in after-school programs and summer camp – and many know that she took part in three Olympics. Some of the kids have been inspired to participate in sports because of her. She is also involved in youth sports and making those leagues run more efficiently.
“I love working with kids every day,” she asserted. “My belief is they’re the next generation, and I want to be part of helping in whatever way I can to make these kids better, to teach them the right things to do and how to treat each other and be respectful. That’s what makes me excited to come to work; I want to make a difference in Orange County kids’ lives.”
Last week, my office, in partnership with City of Apopka Commissioner Alexander Smith, hosted a Town Hall Forum on “Engaging Men, Advancing Women.” The forum focused on bringing community leaders (and role models) together to share why it is important to be a role model to children who are without active mothers and/or fathers to guide them while growing up. As described above, Ms. Ennis is the epitome of such a role model—she encourages them to reach their full potential, leading them to opportunities that they likely would not otherwise have found on their own.
It is women like Delloreen Ennis that inspire other women who may be single mothers or victims of domestic abuse to identify the first step in changing their circumstances: You. Once we have made the decision to better our lives and the lives of our loved ones, everything else will come together. Single mothers must be strong for their children (without being mom and dad) just as female role models need to set a good example for children without mothers. And just like that, you just got a sneak peek of our upcoming forum on “Engaging Women.” Keep an eye on my Facebook Page, Orange County District 2 Commissioner, for more upcoming details—see you on September 27th, 2018!