The Ultimate Hurdle JUmping over obstacles one day at a time

One college student shows others what it truly means to multitask

She hits the track at 12pm to compete in her favorite race, the 60-meter hurdles, in which she holds a JMU record. She garners her stance on the blocks, and takes off at the sound of the starter pistol. With numerous family members in the stands chanting her name, Forbes has a strong start right out the gate. But, her competitors start to gain wind on her. Within seconds, Forbes’ strong start turned to a tough loss.

April 15, 2017, was the day senior JMU track star De’Ana Forbes hung her track cleats in her locker for the very last time. She knew her last track meet was approaching, but it hadn’t hit her until she ran the last heat of her college career.

Though it wasn't a picturesque ending for Forbes, she ended the race with a smile, as she knew she needed to take this very moment in.

"I left everything out on that track,” Forbes says. “Even though I didn’t win, I know I gave it my all.”
Forbes after a daily track practice

But there was one main thing that kept Forbes’ spirits high during this bittersweet moment.

One fan in the stands was cheering wildly way past the end of Forbes’ race. He stood up with the help of Forbes’ family members, and endlessly yelled to get Forbes’ attention. Forbes recognized his yell and started beaming, immediately prancing off the track to embrace him.

"As soon as I look in the stands and see him, I can’t help but smile. He is my main reason for still doing this today,” Forbes says.

Forbes speaks of her one-year-old son, Cayden.

1-year-old Cayden

A pleasantly round little boy with a wide grin and an always-present glimmer in his eye, Cayden is everything to Forbes.

"Cayden is one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever received, and though I face different obstacles as a young mother on a daily basis, being a mom to him is so rewarding.”

For many college students, the biggest struggle during any given day is deciding whether to catch dinner with a friend or stay at home and slave over their piling up assignments. For Forbes, it’s whether or not she wants to leave track practice early to be with her son before his bedtime or if she wants to utilize that time to study in the library.

"Time is my biggest enemy,” Forbes says. “There are not enough hours in the day for me to get everything done. So it’s definitely been harder with Cayden," Forbes says.

In August of 2015, Forbes was in the middle of training for her junior year track season at JMU when she got the life-altering news. She recalls going to the gym one summer morning to carry out her daily workout. But she had to cut her work out short due to the overwhelming nausea that came over her. When she got home, she decided to take a pregnancy test on a whim. The results were shocking.

"I was very blank and confused when I found out," Forbes says. "The first thing that came to mind was how was I going to be able to do track."
"We were all very surprised,” says Ebony Owusu-Sampah, a teammate and close friend to Forbes. “We [the track team] didn’t know what we were going to do because Dee was such a vital component of our team.”

Since Forbes was on a track scholarship for JMU, she worried about how she was going to make this work.

"I had many consultations with the baby’s father discussing if we wanted to give him up for adoption. Neither of us were ready to be parents,” Forbes says.

With Cayden’s father being a student athlete in another state, the two knew there wouldn’t be enough time in their schedules to care for a baby. They had endless disagreements on what their next step would be.

Ultimately, they both decided to keep and raise the baby to the best of their abilities.

"We couldn’t be selfish in this situation,” Forbes says.

With her pregnancy, Forbes was forced to take a break from the track team for her entire junior year. She took that time to prepare herself for the baby’s arrival.

"I wanted to get a good grasp on all of my work before Cayden came because I knew that as soon as he arrived, I would be too tired to focus on my schoolwork," Forbes says.

At the tail end of her junior year on April 30th, 2016, Forbes and the baby’s father welcomed their son into the world. Though they were both extremely nervous and anxious, they were excited to take on this challenge.

"I was scared!” Forbes says. “But I knew that God wouldn’t bare this gift on me if He didn’t think that I could handle it. So I tried to leave all of my nerves and fear in the hospital when we left.”

Luckily, her son arrived at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, so she had all summer to get in the rhythm of being a new mom. During this time, Forbes also conditioned her body back into shape for track season. She was determined to run for her last year of undergrad.

The difficulty came when deciding what to do with her son for her senior year. Due to the fact that she has full custody of her son, it was her duty to either bring him to school with her, or leave him at home with Forbes’ mother.

Forbes says, “The thought of leaving him at home broke my heart. My hometown [Danville, VA] is quite far from JMU, so I wouldn’t have ever been able to see him. But the possibility of bringing him to school terrified me. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to balance him, schoolwork and track all at once.”

Forbes made the difficult decision to bring her son with her as she finished up her undergrad degree. She knew it would be a challenge, but she was willing to face it.

The campus of James Madison University

With the start of the new school year, Forbes reclaimed her spot on the track team, and prepared herself to get back in the swing of things. Since she now had numerous entities to juggle, Forbes asked her sister, Meshayla, to come to Harrisonburg and serve as a live-in nanny to Cayden.

"She told me that she needed me, so I picked up all my things and resettled in Harrisonburg,” Meshayla says. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for De’Ana and my nephew.”
Meshayla pictured with her nephew, Cayden

So Meshayla left her life back in Danville to live in The Harrison, a student-living complex in Harrisonburg, VA.

"It was a huge adjustment for me to be constantly surrounded by college kids, but I knew that I was doing it for Dee, so I didn’t mind,” Meshayla says.

With this new method, Forbes was excited for track season to commence in the spring semester in order to show her coaches how hard she had been training during her break from the team. However, her track career seemed to be a lot different than it used to be. Forbes wasn’t winning anymore, nor was she even coming in second or third place.

With Forbes' busy days and long nights, her exhaustion was being reflected in her track performance. She noticed that happenings with Cayden were affecting the outcomes in her races. She recalls a time when her son was severely sick, and she came in last place in the 200-meter dash.

"I couldn't focus on anything because I was constantly worrying about Cayden and wondering if his fever had gone down. It was very upsetting to me because I felt like I was letting my team down, but also letting Cayden down because I wasn’t at home to nurse him back to health,” Forbes says.

She found it increasingly difficult to clear her mind of all obligations while she was racing. Forbes also struggled with time management and concentration while she was at home. She wanted to spend all of her time away from the track with her son, which resulted in her falling behind on her assignments.

Forbes began to come down very hard on herself. She felt as though every person who doubted her ability to balance school, her son and her track career were watching her under a microscope, waiting for her to crumble.

But, this period inspired Forbes to work harder. She didn’t want to prove people right, so she worked tirelessly to keep up with all of her obligations. She and her sister developed a schedule for Cayden that put Forbes well on her way to getting her and Cayden’s life on track.

By March of 2017, Forbes had mastered her complex lifestyle. Her grades were rising, her son was happily growing, and her track record was improving. The dedicated, focused De’Ana Forbes was back.

Forbes pictured with Cayden

Now that track season has officially ended for Forbes, she can take the rest of the year to focus on her impending final exams and planning her son’s first birthday party.

"Since he’s turning one, I want it to be special,” Forbes says. “It’s going to be a cookout with all of our closest friends and family. I want him to see all of the people that helped me out during his first year.”

Another major event coming up for Forbes is graduation. Forbes will be graduating undergrad with a History degree in May of 2017.

Forbes pictured representing her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
"Though I love JMU with all of my heart, I’m excited to start this new chapter in my life with my son,” Forbes says.


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