By Rob Rose
Thirty years after the men’s team became Jamaica’s first-ever bobsled team to qualify for the Winter Olympics, a Rider alumnus is piloting the first-ever Jamaican women’s bobsled team in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, ’07, is a dual citizen of both the United States and Jamaica. Fenlator-Victorian competed for the U.S. in the 2014 Sochi Olympics as a member of the two-man bobsled team, finishing 11th with her partner Lolo Jones before switching to the Jamaican team in 2015.
“Being able to honor my heritage, culture and pay it forward to my communities and youth by breaking down barriers and providing the knowledge and hope of opportunities they may have never thought was possible, let alone imagined, is the passion that drives me,” said Fenlator-Victorian.
During her four-year career at Rider, Fenlator-Victorian was a member of the track and field team. She was named Rider Women’s Athlete of the Year twice and was elected to the Rider Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015, her first year of eligibility.
“Rider was home for me,” said Fenlator-Victorian. “For both my athletic career and educational goals, I always felt I had the attention I needed to truly push myself and capture the necessary skill set personally and career-wise that I needed to be successful and obtain my goals.”
Fenlator-Victorian graduated from Rider with a bachelor’s degree in multimedia communication and advertising before completing her master’s degree with a concentration on exercise and science from California University of Pennsylvania.
Despite her affection for the 1993 Disney film Cool Runnings, which is loosely based on the 1988 Jamaican men’s bobsled team, Fenlator-Victorian did not have her sights set on bobsled as her college career came to an end.
Her focus was on qualifying for the NCAAs and eventually pursuing a spot on the U.S. track and field team for the 2012 London Olympics. Her former coach at Rider, Robert Pasquariello, had different plans for Fenlator-Victorian.
Pasqauriello suggested that she give bobsled a shot, but Fenlator-Victorian brushed the idea off. Without her knowledge, Pasquariello submitted her athletic rèsumè to the United States Olympic Committee.
“She didn’t know that I had done that,” Pasquariello said. “She kind of chuckled and referenced the movie Cool Runnings. She got intrigued by it. I told her she had nothing to lose, and to go up there and that she might like it.”
Competing in the Olympics for the U.S. is an experience Fenlator-Victorian said she will never forget. Throughout the years while she was training for the 2014 Winter Olymics, her family endured many obstacles but was always there to support her. In 2011, Fenlator-Victorian’s mother’s home was destroyed by Hurricane Irene, causing her to be homeless for 12 weeks. Fenlator-Victorian was training for an upcoming U.S. women’s bobsled team race. Her mother also has endured a long battle with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.
“I sent money home to help my mom out, and I came home as soon as I could to help prepare things and be there for her,” Fenlator-Victorian said. “When she was ill, I drove home to be by her side during surgery. When she got out of surgery, she told me, ‘You better get your butt back up there because you have a race.’ There are a lot of things that definitely take a toll, but what helps an individual really get through is having a great support system.”
After finishing 11th in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Fenlator-Victorian wasn’t ready to have her career end and decided to switch her representation from the U.S. to Jamaica in 2015.
“After competing in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics for Team USA, I knew I had more to give. With the support of my husband, family, mentors and of course, the Jamaica Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, we all knew that this was something special and could change the world in a positive way,” said Fenlator-Victorian. “There is a lot of labeling and characterization that happens throughout the world in society personally, professionally and in between. My parents always told me to go for it and to not let anything stop me especially because I am a girl, because I am black, because we grew up in a lower income neighborhood, because I am mixed, or any other stereotype one can be called.”
Fenlator-Victorian teamed up with brakewoman Carrie Russell, who won a 2013 world title in track and field as a member of the 4×100 Jamaican relay team. Fenlator-Victorian and Russell drove the first Jamaican sled in World Cup competition since 2001 when the pair qualified, becoming the first women to compete for Jamaica in the Winter Olympics.
Russell and Fenlator-Victorian join 11 former male athletes, 10 of which are bobsledders, as the only Jamaicans to compete in the Winter Olympics.
According to the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation announcers, the sled that Fenlator-Victorian and Russell drive has been named “Mr. Cool Bolt” after Cool Runnings and fellow Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt, an eight-time Olympic gold medal winning sprinter.
Fenlator-Victorian is focused as the Olympics approach. The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics begin on Feb. 9, and women’s bobsled kicks off on Feb. 17. After building the Jamaican women’s bobsled program from the ground up, Fenlator-Victorian proves that hard work and dedication can you take you anywhere.
“Any goal you set for yourself, keep driving towards it with resilience. There is no timeframe to be the best version of yourself,” said Fenlator-Victorian. “All goals in life are a process, and the path of that process can take multiple bends and turns along the way so embrace the journey. Remember failure is not negative and always ensure you’re doing what you enjoy and enjoy what you’re doing. Without passion and drive, it’s just another task with no purpose behind it.”