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Olympian enjoys role

In 1993, Charles Barkley made famous his "I am not a role model," Nike advertisement campaign.

Then, as if to truly hammer home the point, Barkley went out and got a DUI, earning a couple days in jail this year.

While the message of the campaign was only somewhat serious, numerous professional athletes today happily avoid any such responsibility.

Stephanie Brown-Trafton isn't one of those athletes.

But that's probably because Brown-Trafton remembers the inspiration behind her athletic career.

The U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning discus thrower knew she wanted to be an Olympic athlete after watching Mary Lou Retton's gymnastics performance in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Twenty-four years later, Brown-Trafton became the first U.S. woman in 76 years to win a discus gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

She was in the Merced area on Friday to talk about those and other experiences with the UC Merced sports organizing body and the students at Winton Middle School.

"I think it's a great opportunity to share my experiences and let people know that they can overcome some tough obstacles," Brown-Trafton said. "I came from some disadvantaged circumstances.

"I was raised by a single father and we were poor by most measures.

"It's a chance to show people that you can succeed from any background."

Brown-Trafton met with UC Merced officials -- including Chancellor Steve Kong -- for a few hours on Friday morning. She discussed her life as a student-athlete and some of the challenges the school's students might face as it attempts to get an intercollegiate athletics program up and running.

"We're excited to hear about her experiences both as a collegiate and Olympic athlete," said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jane Lawrence. "She's an inspiration to a lot of our female students and we hope she can provide some insight as we move forward with our athletic program."

When Brown-Trafton finished up at the university, she headed off to Winton Middle School -- where her cousin's husband, Ray Guerrero, is principal.

"It's pretty unbelievable to just have this opportunity to have someone of Stephanie's caliber come and talk to the kids," Guerrero said. "It's not just the kids, several of my staff are really excited to meet her.

"She's a really great person and so much more than just an Olympic gold medalist. I hope that's something the students get out of it."

While the experience is still a bit surreal, Brown-Trafton is equally honored to help be a part of the next generation's Mary Lou Retton-type moments.

"I was at a high school track meet a few days ago and one of the girls ran over to say how much I inspired her," Brown-Trafton said. "She was talking about how her coach put pictures of me up on the wall as a motivational tool.

"It's a pretty cool feeling."