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

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Probe Targeting China's Statistic Head Sparks Concern

    Economists now asking what prompted government to launch an investigation only months after Wang Baoan had been vetted for crucial job

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.