Dream Big and Have a Good Handshake

Running USA focuses attention on inspiring youth at annual conference in Texas

HOUSTON - One of America’s most decorated Olympic athletes of all-time joined a powerful motivational sports speaker to inspire a crowd of 130 kids – and adults – at Running USA 2012 in Houston, Texas on Monday, Jan. 16.

Fittingly taking place on a day that celebrates the life of civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., the Running Rocks Youth Assembly sponsored by Hershey’s Track & Field Games urging the junior high and high school students to follow their dreams, set goals, and embrace some old fashioned values – all while incorporating physical fitness into their lives – was well received by kids and adults alike.

Led by motivational speaker Kevin Carroll and made even more powerful by the presence of 9-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis, the students from Houston’s Chavez High School and Pilgrim Academy listened with rapt attention as Carroll and Lewis dialogued for 45 minutes about Lewis’ early career, what pushed him to become one of the best athletes in the world, and even his everyday life now that he’s retired.

They learned not only about his early days in the sand pits of New Jersey – which was literally a play pen for young Carl before he became one of the world’s best-ever long jumpers and sprinters – but how he stays fit now (with dumbbells in his home gym) and what he likes to eat (vegetables, which elicited a few groans from the young audience).

“It’s a good feeling when you learn what you can do to better yourself,” said participant Adrian Azaguirre, 18. Diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 18, Adrian said he has become physically fit since learning of his condition. He’s started running and participated in the El Paso 5K, part of the Chevron Houston Marathon, and he’s especially proud that he never had to revisit the emergency room in the five years since his diagnosis.

Carroll’s sessions with all audiences are built around his concept of the Red Rubber Ball, that ubiquitous playground toy that we all played with at least a time or two in our childhood. Recapturing the joy of those days is paramount in his talks, which leave their audiences feeling energized and motivated.

It was especially valuable for the students to hear from Carroll because he was abandoned by his parents before age 6 and raised mostly by his grandfather.

“A lot of these kids can relate to that,” said Andrew Callis, a teacher at Chavez High. After school programs encourage his students to develop interests and hobbies like sports, ROTC, film, and photography that keep them future focused and out of trouble.

Carroll also brought home some messages about old fashioned values – your handshake can carry you far, he told them. Look people in the eye when you’re speaking to them. Get a library card so you can be well-rounded and knowledgeable. Avoid what he calls “adult posture” – a hunchbacked, downcast person starting at their smart phone all the time.

And Lewis’ story inspired them with the importance of hard work.

“They don’t get to do stuff like this too often,” said Jordan Parker, a teacher at Pilgrim Academy. “To hear from one of the greatest athletes ever – that was meaningful.”

Led by Carroll, the students built individual Dream Boxes during the session, collecting images and words that inspire and will help them set future goals. Lewis joined in, sitting with a group of delighted students. He also signed autographs and posted for photos with the teens.

“It opened my eyes to things that you can do in your daily life,” said another student participant. “I think it’s just about doing what you like to do, and not letting anybody stop you.”