BRANDON, Mississippi — Before becoming a three-time Olympic medalist and claiming the title of World’s Fastest Woman, French Bowie welcomed a camera crew to her hometown of Sandhill, Mississippi.
“I found my strength here” Bowie, nicknamed Tori, said: A small town 30 minutes northeast of Jackson.
It was 2016 and the 26-year-old Bowie was about to make his Olympic debut as a member of the US sprint team in Rio de Janeiro. But first she stopped by Pisgah High School to visit her teachers and staff and she found herself wiping away happy tears. She loved being at home.
“I hope one day to come to Sandhill and have a big sign there that says ‘Welcome to Sandhill, home of Tori Bowie,'” she said.
On Saturday, Bowie’s proud community gathered at her funeral to mourn her recent unexplained death and agonize over answers. she was 32 years old.
Her body was found on May 2 by an Orange County, Florida, sheriff’s deputy who was conducting a medical check-up after not seeing or hearing from her for several days.
Bowie was pregnant, but it was unclear if she gave birth before her death.program offered at funerals On Saturday, he told Bowie that his daughter, Ariana Bowie, had “early passed away.” Officials at the Orange County Coroner’s Office confirmed Saturday that she was “Bowie’s baby” without naming her, but declined to provide further details.
The cause of death has not been released as toxicology tests are pending, and the agency said this week that tests could take up to three months to complete.
Bowie’s later years seemed as shrouded in mystery as his death. She said her fellow track and field athletes, who once trained and competed with her, had distanced themselves from her in recent years. Outside of her course, many didn’t know her at all. Olympic track and field coach Al Joyner, who has coached Bowie since she was in her early 20s, said the last time she spoke to Bowie was at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in the fall of 2019. .
At Saturday’s memorial service at True Vine Baptist Church in Brandon, Mississippi, thousands of mourners tried to put questions aside and focus on Bowie’s athletic achievements, faith and her shining moments. bottom.
But a sense of shock still permeated the room when the condolences were shared. Even Reverend Sylvester London, who presided over the service and delivered a tribute, spoke of his disbelief when he learned of Bowie’s death on the breaking news. “I was shocked and shocked,” London said. “Then I started praying.”
Bowie’s road to fame in track and field began almost by accident in Sandhill. She wanted to play basketball at Pisgah High School, but the school was too small to have separate teams for both sports, so interested students could also participate in track and field. requested.Bowie reluctantly agreed, even though she thought so Favorite long basketball shorts For short bottoms given to track and field athletes.
The Pisgah Dragons didn’t have a track of their own and practiced running around the grass field. They then won three state championship titles with Bowie competing in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.
Still, Bowie’s first love was basketball. Her fortunes turned when she was recruited to the University of Southern Mississippi. If she could make it to the basketball team, she would do track and field, she said. they reached an agreement.
“What struck me was that she was really tall and skinny,” said Sonya Vernell, a longtime athletic coach at the University of Southern Mississippi. “Most sprinters are muscular, but she was tall and skinny like a basketball player.”
Vernell was drawn to Bowie, describing him as humble and a hard worker. Vernell was also raised by his grandmother, grew up in the same county as Bowie, and was a first-generation student-athlete. “She came out of nowhere, just like me,” Vernell said. She added, “I don’t think she realized how good she was or how good she could be.”
Her greatest potential initially seemed to lie in field events. When Joyner, the 1984 Olympic triple jump gold medalist, met Bowie in 2013, she was being raised as a long jumper. He said it didn’t take long before he told Bowie that she too could be a sprinter on her world stage.
“I told her she was going to be the next great person,” Joyner said. “That was in 2014. I will never forget that day.” She beat Allyson Felix. She said to me, ‘Al, you were right. “
At the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the team that included Felix won silver in the 100m, bronze in the 200m and gold in the 4x100m relay.
In 2017, Bowie won the World Championships and became the world’s fastest woman in a dramatic 100m race. won by 1/100th of a second By leaning your head forward over the finish line.
Her dreams have grown. She wanted to be a model but she was more interested in working with her fashion brands and in 2018 she did both.she was featured in Valentino motion and Stella McCartney – Adidas collaboration. She appeared at New York Fashion Week. She was photographed by Annie Leibovitz. trend Introduced in ESPN “Body Issues”.
Her friend Antoine Prudhomme said she wanted to use her fame for good. Bowie and her 11-month-older sister, Tamara, were placed into her foster care by her birth mother when she was a toddler. Bowie told reporters.. Their paternal grandmother, Bobby Louise Smith, became their legal guardian. raised them.
Prodom said Bowie wanted to show up looking for a foster child. Together, the two visited orphanages in Florida and Mississippi three or four times a year, delivering Christmas presents and occasionally challenging children to foot races.
Tanieka Anderson, program director at Appella, a Mississippi orphanage, remembers Bowie’s visit in 2019. she said: She said, “How can someone like her come to our rescue? Why don’t you come and give back to our children? That’s very special.”
She said Bowie threw a dance party for the kids and stayed there for over four hours. “She was doing very well and she seemed very happy,” said Anderson.
But then something changed. According to his friends and former coach, Bowie has always been private. But over the years, Bowie has lost contact with many of the people who helped her develop her athleticism.
Vernell and Joyner noticed that their messages and phone calls were not answered and returned. Vernell hoped she was busy. Joyner hoped she was training for her next big goal, perhaps a comeback after competing at the 2019 World Championships where she finished fourth in the long jump. Bowie’s Instagram pagehas been quite active, but was last updated in October 2019.
Her last race was in the 200m sprint series in Montverde, Florida in July 2022. Bowie attended Full Sail University in Florida from the fall of 2022 until her death, according to her family’s obituary.
During Friday’s visit, many mourners heard Bowie’s voice for the first time in years, smiling as she watched her races and interviews on the TV above Bowie’s coffin.
Her laughter was always contagious, reverberating throughout the room, and some people shook their heads in obvious disbelief.
“When I get back to Sandhill, I feel free,” Bowie said in a 2016 video.
Saturday’s funeral procession followed Bowie back to Sandhill for burial. The cemetery is not far from the sign installed in 2018. “Welcome to the community of Sandhill, home of Olympic Gold Medalist Tori Bowie,” it read.