Brandon, Miss. — Before becoming a three-time Olympic medalist and holding the title of world’s fastest woman, Frantorish Bowie greeted a camera crew in her hometown of Sandhill, Miss.

“That’s where I got my strength,” Bowie, nicknamed Tori, said In the small town 30 minutes northeast of Jackson.

It was 2016, and at age 26, Bowie was about to make his Olympic debut as part of the US sprinting team at the Rio de Janeiro Games. But first she stopped by Pisgah High School to meet the teachers and staff and found herself wiping away tears of joy. She loved to stay at home.

“One day I hope I can come to Sandhill and have this big sign that says, ‘Welcome to Sandhill, home of Tory Bowie,'” she said.

On Saturday, the community so proud of Bowie struggled for answers as it gathered for his funeral mourned his recent unexplained death, She was 32 years old.

His body was found May 2 by Orange County, Fla., sheriff’s deputies who were conducting a health check after not having seen or heard from him for several days.

Bowie was pregnant, but it was unclear whether she went to term before she died. Program provided at the funeral service said on Saturday that Bowie was “predeceased” by a daughter, Ariana Bowie. On Saturday, an official at the Orange County medical examiner’s office who declined to give his name confirmed it was “Baby Bowie,” but declined to provide further details.

No cause of death has been released as toxicology tests are pending, and the office said this week that the tests could take up to three months to complete.

Bowie’s final years appeared to be as much of a mystery as his death. Fellow track athletes who once trained or competed with her said she had become distant in recent years. Many didn’t know him off the track at all. Olympic track coach Al Joyner, who mentored Bowie in her early 20s, said he last spoke to her in the fall of 2019 at the world championships in Doha, Qatar.

At Saturday’s memorial service at True Vine Baptist Church in Brandon, Miss., a crowd of mourners tried to put aside their questions and focus on Bowie’s athletic achievements, his faith and his euphoric moments.

But a sense of shock still pervaded the room as tributes poured in. Even Reverend Sylvester London, who conducted the service and gave the eulogy, described his disbelief when he learned of Bowie’s death from a news alert. “I was shocked, shocked,” London said. “Then I started praying.”

Bowie’s road to track and field fame began almost by chance at Sandhill. She wanted to play basketball at Pisgah High School, but the school also required interested students to compete in track, as it was too small to field separate teams for both sports. Bowie reluctantly agreed, even though he had a lot favorite long basketball shorts Small bottoms given to track athletes.

The Pisgah Dragons do not have a track to their name and practice by running on a grass field. Bowie won three state championship titles, competing in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

Nevertheless, Bowie’s first love was basketball. When he was recruited by the University of Southern Mississippi, he turned the tables. She said she would do track and field if she could try to walk on the basketball team. They came to an agreement.

“What stood out to me was that he was really tall and lean,” said Sonya Vernell, longtime athletic administrator at the University of Southern Mississippi. “He had a lot of muscle like most sprinters, and he was tall and thin like a basketball player.”

Vernell was attracted to Bowie, whom he described as a hard worker who was humble and polite. Vernell was also raised by his grandmother, who grew up in the same county as Bowie and was also a first-generation student-athlete. “She came from nothing,” Vernell said, “just like me.” She added, “I don’t think she realized how good she was or how good she could be.”

His greatest potential initially seemed to be in field events. When Joyner, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump, met Bowie in 2013, he was being groomed as a long jumper. She soon told Bowie that she could be a sprinter on the world stage, too, she said.

Joyner said, “I told her she was going to be the next great.” “And that was in 2014. I will never forget that day she beat allyson felix, He told me, ‘Al, you were right.'”

At the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, she earned a silver medal in the 100 m, a bronze in the 200 m and a gold medal in the 4×100 m relay, which included Felix.

In 2017, Bowie won a world championship, earning the title of fastest woman in the world after a dramatic 100-metre dash. won by hundredths of a second Leaning your head forward across the finish line.

His dreams expanded. She wanted to get into modeling and was interested in working with a fashion brand and in 2018 she did both. he was featured in a Valentino Campaign and a Stella McCartney-Adidas Cooperation. She walked in New York Fashion Week. was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the trend and was featured in ESPN “Body Issue.”

She wanted to use her fame for good, said her friend Antoine Predhomme. When she was a baby, Bowie and her sister, Tamarra, who is 11 months old, were placed in the foster care system by their birth mother. Bowie told reporters, His maternal grandmother, Bobbie Lewis Smith, obtained legal guardianship and picked them up,

Bowie wanted to show up for the foster children, Pridhomi said. Together, the pair would visit foster homes three to four times a day in Florida and Mississippi to deliver Christmas gifts and occasionally challenge the children to foot races.

Tanyaka Anderson, a program director at Mississippi foster care provider Apella, recalls Bowie’s 2019 visit. She said: “For a person of his magnitude to help? To have our children come back? That’s something very special.”

She said that Bowie threw a party for the children that included dancing, and stayed for more than four hours. “She was very lively, very happy,” Anderson said.

But then something changed. Bowie was always private, friends and former coaches said. But over the years, Bowie lost touch with many of the people who were part of his athletic rise.

Vernell and Joyner found their texts and calls unanswered and unanswered. Vernell expected that he was busy. Joyner hoped she was training for the next big thing, perhaps a comeback following her appearance at the world championships in 2019, where she finished fourth in the long jump. Bowie’s Instagram pageWhich was quite active, was last updated in October 2019.

He last performed in July 2022 in Montverde, Fla. Participated in the 200 meters race in the sprint series held in Bowie attended Full Sail University in Florida in the fall of 2022 until his death, his family’s obituary said.

During the visitation on Friday, many mourners heard Bowie’s voice again for the first time in years, smiling as they watched his run and interviews on a television above Bowie’s casket.

His laughter, always infectious, echoed around the room as some shook their heads in apparent disbelief.

“When I’m back in the sandhills,” Bowie said in a 2016 video, “I feel free.”

On Saturday the funeral procession headed back to Sandhill to bury Bowie. The cemetery is not far from the sign which was installed in 2018. It read: “Welcome to the community of Sandhill, home of Olympic gold medalist Tori Bowie.”

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