Tonja Yvette Buford-Bailey was born December 13, 1970 in Dayton, to a mostly-single mother, and is one of seven children. At 8 years old, Tonja joined the track club at her elementary school and while attending Meadowdale High School, she became a four-time state hurdles champion.
Her successes led to three trips to the Olympics – Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996, and Sydney in 2000. When Tonja made the team in 1992, she was just 21 and was the second youngest Olympian from the U.S. to be sent to Spain. Once the Dayton Daily News published an article about Tonja going to Barcelona, it was publicized that her mother wouldn’t be able to afford the trip to Spain. The article spurred Daytonians on to donate funds to pay for the trip, and Tonja’s mother was able to see Tonja compete.