News / USA

US Olympian Carl Lewis Uses Fame to Fight Hunger

New FAO ambassador will travel the world to raise awareness

Carl Lewis blowing the whistle on hunger in Rome to launch the UN's 1 Billion Hungry Project.
Carl Lewis blowing the whistle on hunger in Rome to launch the UN's 1 Billion Hungry Project.

Multimedia

Audio
Nancy Greenleese

Carl Lewis dominated the sport of track and field for nearly two decades, earning nine Olympic gold medals in the 1980s and 90s. The athlete still holds the record for the indoor long jump, a quarter century after setting it.

These days, he is leaping into new arenas as an advocate for fitness, wellness and ending world hunger, including last month's launch of the UN's "1 Billion Hungry" project.

Fighting world hunger

To signal the start of the symbolic race to feed the one billion people living in chronic hunger, Lewis joined other celebrities and FAO employees at the agency's headquarters in Rome, Italy. They leaned out the windows and blew bright yellow whistles as a crowd cheered below.

Lewis leapt at the chance when the FAO asked him to help to raise awareness of world hunger.

"Fortunately, after 30 years of being in the public eye, I have a global voice," he say. "And the idea is that I'm shifting more work into public service and you know, that's my life goal. So, to me, it's just doing the work that I feel it's time for me to do."

15 October 2009, Rome - Former Olympic runner Carl Lewis holding the official t-shirt of the press conference for the 4th edition of the Run For Food race to take place on the occasion of World Food Day.
15 October 2009, Rome - Former Olympic runner Carl Lewis holding the official t-shirt of the press conference for the 4th edition of the Run For Food race to take place on the occasion of World Food Day.

Lewis gives time locally, serving as a volunteer track coach at his old high school in New Jersey.

Nationally, the Carl Lewis Foundation sponsors athletic programs for inner-city children and other causes. In October, Lewis went global with his charity work, accepting a position as Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

When the five-time Olympian accepted a medal from FAO Director General Jacques Diouf, he quipped, "This is best silver medal that I've ever received."

The former track star remains fit and trim but has exchanged his trademark flamboyant Lycra track gear for an elegant black suit. On his first day at this job, he's more of a scout than an athlete, pledging to dedicate himself to the FAO's mission of making sure all people have access to food.

"And I'd also like to reach out to all of my athletic friends and family," he tells the audience, "and I hope that they understand that their legacy is the relevance that they bring beyond and after their athletic careers end. So thank you very much, and thank you for having me. And let's go to work."

Carl Lewis won five gold medals and still holds the record for the indoor long jump.
Carl Lewis won five gold medals and still holds the record for the indoor long jump.

Setting goals

Lewis is well-trained at setting and achieving goals. It's in his blood.

His mother was an Olympic hurdler and his parents managed a local track club. Lewis captured the national high school long jump record in 1979 before heading to the University of Houston. The next year he made his first Olympic team. For seven years, he didn't lose a long jump competition.

"I don't think that he was the best talent we had," says Joe Douglas of the Santa Monica Track Club, who managed Lewis' golden career. "I just think that his talent overall which included his focus...he said that I am going to do it. He would do anything that it took to be a great athlete. And that's hard to find anymore."

Lewis also pushed for professionalizing the sport. He called for changes that permitted him and subsequent generations of athletes to earn a living and extend their careers long beyond college.

However, his activism angered many. Lewis' track career also closed under a cloud of controversy. He lobbied to be put on a relay team at the 1996 Atlanta Games even though he hadn't trained with the squad. The U.S. coaches refused.

Five-time US Olympian Carl Lewis is now focusing on alleviating world hunger.
Five-time US Olympian Carl Lewis is now focusing on alleviating world hunger.

A life after sports

After retiring from sports in 1997, the superhuman Lewis became all too human.

An aspiring actor, his work was largely panned. In 2003, he crashed his sports car while driving intoxicated. Drunk driving charges were dismissed after he agreed to attend alcohol awareness meetings. The crash made him re-evaluate his life and set goals for this second phase.

Lewis has won over U.S. track and field's CEO Douglas Logan, who says, "There are very few people in this world that are blessed with both talent and charisma. And Carl has both in incredible doses."

Logan met Lewis shortly before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the Games, the U.S. track team had a raft of problems including dropping batons during relays. A desperate Logan sought out Lewis.

"It was a two-and-a-half-hour lunch and Carl did all the talking," says Logan. "His was the most insightful examination of where we were as a nation with regard to how we conducted our [sports] development. And laid out, almost in plan form, some very creative ideas with regard to how we could improve."

Logan put Lewis on a task force that has crafted a plan for the team as it prepares for the 2012 London Games. The track executive called Lewis a spiritual leader, a different view from his competitive days when he was labeled aloof and a spoilsport.

Logan said a track and field event in Pennsylvania summed up for him the real Carl Lewis.

"A youngster was looking for his autograph and didn't have anything to sign it on. And Carl - I mean, without even thinking about it - took a pen, autographed the shirt that he was wearing and literally gave this young person the shirt off his back."

Still running, for a cause

It may prove to be excellent training for future travels with the United Nations to some of the world's poorest countries. For those he's helping, he'll always be remembered as King Carl, who reigned in track and field.

And that's okay for Lewis who also holds dear many moments from the track, especially receiving his last Olympic gold medal.

"I knew I was leaving, that it was over and that was it," he explains. "But I tend to tell myself every morning when I get up that I haven't seen it yet. And I try to live that way. That is why I continue to try to do new things. And that's why it's so special.

The longtime vegan and fitness advocate plans to celebrate his 50th birthday next year by competing in a marathon.

In the meantime, he'll be running around the globe in the fight to end world hunger.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid