LaShawn Merritt’s Olympic comeback in Rio already includes a bronze medal in the 400-meter race, and on Thursday night, he will try to add to his collection with a medal in the 200-meter. Unfortunately, he has to beat Usain Bolt to do it. The 30-year-old Merritt’s family will be cheering for him back home in Virginia.
Here’s a look at Merritt’s parents and family.
1. Merritt’s Older Brother Antwan Died at 18 Years Old & Inspired Merritt to Become a Runner
In 1999, Merritt’s older brother, Antwan Merritt, was killed when he jumped out of a dorm room window at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina while trying to escape a fight.
As The Washington Times notes, five men were charged with involuntary manslaughter in Antwan’s death and each were acquitted by a jury. Two did spend 10 days in jail after being convicted of simple assault.
The prosecutors argued that Antwan jumped out of the window when the five men arrived to resume a fight that started on the basketball court. Merritt didn’t think justice for his brother was served.
Antwan’s death inspired Merritt to become a runner and he often touches his fingers to his lips and points to the sky before a race. It’s a tribute to his brother.
“It’s like you’re no longer running for one man. You’re running for two,” Merritt told the New York Times in December 2011.
“He never got a chance to even start a dream,” Merritt told the Washington Times in 2012.
Merritt said that Antwan hoped to be an architect. He also encouraged his younger brother to get into sports by giving him $10 whenever he hit a home run.
2. Merritt & Olympic Champion Hurdler Aries Merritt Are Cousins
According to IAAF, Merritt and Aries Merritt are cousins. Aires Merritt won the gold medal in London in the 110-meter hurdles, although he did not get to defend his medal in Rio.
Aries Merritt had a genetic kidney disease, which not only could have ended his career, but was life threatening. As USA Today notes, his older sister, LaToya Hubbard came to the rescue by donating her kidney. The operation was a success and Aries Merritt thought that he could defend his London gold medal. Unfortunately, he came up short at the Olympic Trials in July, finishing in fourth place.
3. Merritt Requested that His Parents Not Go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics to See Him Win Gold in Person
At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Merritt beat Jeremy Wariner for the gold in the 400-meter race by almost a second. However, his parents, Owen Merritt and Brenda Stukes, weren’t there to see it.
“I wanted to go there so bad but LaShawn told me everything that would be going on,” Owen told the Virginia-Pilot in 2008. “He told me he would be in the Olympic Village and I wouldn’t have been able to be with him and that I’d be there on my own. He told me he’d feel better knowing I was home safe.”
Stukes said she didn’t even know about the results of the race until a reporter told her.
Merritt’s parents are once again watching him run in the Olympics from home.
“I’m good with not going as long as I can watch it on TV,” Stukes told the Virginia Pilot in July 2016. “I’m excited about it because look what he’s going for. He’s going for it all.”
4. Merritt’s Sister Antionesha Named One of Her Sons After Antwan
Merritt also has a sister, Antionesha. She has two sons, Kwame and Antwan, who is named after Merritt’s late brother, USA Today notes. Antionesha’s Antwan was born in 2007.
Merritt told USA Today in 2009 that they had a difficult upbringing, since their father and mother divorced when they were young. They lived with their mother in Portsmouth, Virginia, while Antwan lived with their father.
Merritt said in 2009:
“It was hard at times… But we had a lot of people trying to help because she was a single parent. My dad helped a lot. A lot of people around here helped, getting me to practices, helping me with (athletic) shoes. They saw I was on a positive road. Everybody wanted to help. Another reason I love the city so much.
5. Merritt Says His Family Keeps Him ‘Humble’ & Gives Him a Sense of Peace
In a July 2016 interview with People Magazine, Merritt said that he has a “big support system” back in Portsmouth and that his mother always supported him.
“Growing up, my mom did a lot for me, even to this day. She was always the one that would tell me, in any sport that I played, to go out and have fun,” Merritt told People. “She’d always say that, ‘Just go have fun.’ So I’m having fun and living the dream.”
Merritt also said that his family “keeps me humble,” adding “That’s where I get my sense of peace.”