When she was a young girl growing up in Bed-Stuy, one of Brooklyn's toughest neighborhoods, Jawauna McMullen was nicknamed One Eye Joe by her pals. Born blind in her left eye, she liked the moniker. It made her different. Handicapped? Hardly. Even today, as a 17-year-old sophomore at Christ the King High School in Queens, she wrinkles her nose at the term, preferring to describe her eye as "just asleep." Handicapped or not, Jawauna is arguably the most talented middle-distance runner to emerge in the U.S. since Mary Decker set the indoor 880-yard world record of 2:02.4 at age 15 in 1974. And Jawauna has had to overcome not only her partial blindness but also abandonment as an infant and the myriad pitfalls of life in the inner city.
Jawauna and her natural brother, LaShaun, 19, were adopted as infants by John McMullen, a salesman, and his wife, Lena, who has operated a day-care center in their home. The couple raised the pair alongside their three natural and live adopted sons. Today, each of the 10 McMullen children is either in high school or college or has graduated from college.
In the spring of '92, Jawauna's grades slipped dramatically, and she considered quitting track. She confessed to her brother Stephen, who plans to become a priest and is now studying at Xavier University in Louisiana, that she was uncomfortable with the attention she attracted through running and found it difficult to concentrate in school. "Maybe I'm just dumb," she confided. Yes, Stephen told her, you are dumb. Dumb for not trying. Dumb for giving in to the neighborhood credo of underachievement.
The next day Jawauna began spending her free periods and lunch breaks with a special tutor. By the summer she had not only passed the eighth grade, but she also was ranked first among American high school girls in the 800 (2:05.35) and ran the nation's third-fastest 400 (53.74).
At 5'10" she is a study in grace and power, eerily reminiscent of the 5'11" Wilma Rudolph. But on the track she sometimes has trouble seeing the other racers, especially when they are on her left, or blind, side. To compensate, she accelerates quickly to the front of the field. She knows that if she gets caught up in the pack, she's apt to become visually confused and either fall or fail to navigate a turn. In one race two years ago she became so disoriented while trying to get around the leader on a turn that she ended up in the shot put area instead of on the backstretch. "When I'm running, I can feel real clumsy," she says. "I lose my balance a lot." In an effort to develop more speed and confidence, she is concentrating this winter on the 400.
As a member of the Brooklyn-based Jeuness Track Club, Jawauna won the 800 at both the 1993 indoor and outdoor national scholastic championships, which were held in Syracuse, N.Y., and Los Angeles, respectively. Last June she ran a 2:07.89 to defend her 800 crown at the USA Track & Field junior championships, in Spokane. One month later in Winnipeg, she finished in 2:06.99 to win the Junior Pan Ams.
Jawauna spends what free time she has with her mother, Lena, her best friend. Lena has never been able to turn her back on a child in need. Even today, at 73, she takes kids in, whether for a meal, a night or a few months. The neighborhood youth, even the most troubled, return the favor, particularly when it comes to Jawauna. "If the drug dealers see me coming, they put the stuff away until I walk past," she says. "They do it because they have respect for me. I don't think they'd do it for anybody else—except maybe my mother."