Growing up in the small town of Sand Hill, Miss., about 30 miles northeast of Jackson, a young Frentorish “Tori” Bowie wanted nothing more than to play on the basketball team at Pisgah High School. However, due to the small size of the school, anyone wishing to join the basketball team had to join the track team as well. Soon after she joined the two teams, track quickly overtook basketball as Bowie’s passion.
During her junior and senior years, Bowie won Mississippi state high-school championships in the 100-meter, 200-meter and long jump as well as three state titles in the 4×100-meter relay, all while still competing on the state team in women’s basketball. Her accomplishments earned her an athletic scholarship at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she represented the school in NCAA Division I competitions for sprints and jumps.
After she began competing in track and field professionally in 2013, Bowie won a gold medal in the 4×100-meter relay at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, along with a silver in the 100-meter and bronze in the 200-meter. She also earned two gold medals in the 100-meter and 4×100-meter relay at the London World Championship in London in 2017.
The following spring, Bowie tore her quad muscle during training and was sidelined for the entire season, after which she struggled to return. At the Robison Invitational in Provo, Utah, Bowie managed to make the entry standard for the Doha World Championships in Qatar later that year, which she finished fourth overall in with a 6.81-meter jump in the final round.
Bowie’s determination to come back from her injury likely stemmed in part from lessons that her grandmother instilled as her guardian after her mother placed her and her sister into foster care.
“My grandmother’s number-one rule was that once you start something, you don’t quit,” Bowie told Women’s Running in 2018. “From a young age, she never let me give up on anything.”
Bowie Dies During Childbirth at 32 Years Old
On May 2, 2023, tragedy struck when authorities found Bowie dead inside her home in Orange County, Fla., following a wellness check after she had not been seen or heard from in over a week. Bowie, 32, was eight months pregnant at the time of her death, which an autopsy showed to have resulted from complications due to respiratory distress and eclampsia after she went into labor in her home. Her autopsy showed she had been dead since April 23, and her child was stillborn.
Eclampsia and preeclampsia are disorders related to high blood pressure during pregnancy, which can lead to fatal seizures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2021 that the maternal death rate for Black women was 69.9 per 100,000, roughly 2.6 times higher than the rate for white women, which disorders like eclampsia play a major role in.
Allyson Felix, a former teammate of Bowie’s on the U.S. Track and Field Olympic team, said in an interview with Time Magazine that Bowie’s passing shows that Black women, especially women athletes, need to be made aware of the greater risks they face during pregnancy and that doctors must do their part in informing Black women of these risks and how to mitigate them. Felix suffered from preeclampsia herself when she was pregnant with her daughter Camryn in 2018.
“Awareness is huge. Serena Williams had near-death complications during her pregnancy; Beyoncé developed preeclampsia,” Felix told Time. “I hate that it takes Tori’s situation to put this back on the map and to get people to pay attention to it. But oftentimes, we need that wake-up call.”
“This is America, in 2023, and Black women are dying while giving birth. It’s absurd,” Felix continued. “I’m hopeful that things can get better. I’m hopeful that Tori, who stood on the podium at Rio, gold around her neck and sweetness in her soul, won’t die in vain.”
Correction: A caption for this story originally said Tori Bowie died in Tampa, Fla.; she died at her home in Horizon West, Fla. It has been corrected.