Former Olympian Carl Lewis is coaching the next generation. 

He was regarded as calculated, cocky, and arrogant. Although he wasn’t heralded early on as one of America’s favorites, Carl Lewis is one of the most decorated athletes in the world, with multiple Olympic and World Championship medals. 

“Looking back, my only goal was to make an impact,” Lewis says. “It was really important to me to make the sport better for everyone.”

Born Frederick Carlton Lewis, the revered Olympian has always been the underdog. Nicknamed “Shorty” by his younger sister, athletic dominance wasn’t in Lewis’ sights until the age of 15, when he hit a growth spurt. From there he would go on to shine on multiple high school sports teams, something he attributes to the examples set by his mother, and world-class hurdler, Evelyn Lawler. 

“My mother was a health and physical education teacher. She was a major influence,” Lewis tells Houstonia. He ran for his school teams because his mother growing up couldn’t. “She wanted track and field for girls when it wasn’t available.”

Lawler worked to provide young women access to track and field by starting her own training program with her husband in their Willingboro Township, New Jersey neighborhood. The Willingboro Track Club became a place where Lewis would also practice. 

His parents' emphasis on playing sports and physical wellness would stay with him through high school and college. The University of Houston alum’s collegiate career primed him for greatness at the 1984 Olympic Games. 

Carl Lewis poses in a Festari suit, styled by Frankie Bleau. 

There was an immense amount of pressure on Lewis back in 1984, he recalls. He attempted一and succeeded一at matching Jesse Owens’ record of four gold medals in a single Olympiad. 

But that was only the beginning.

He would go on to earn 10 medals in total — nine gold and one silver — in a professional career that spanned four Olympics. He is still one of the top Olympic track and field athletes in America, behind Allyson Felix.  

While he’s retired from running as a competitor, he’s returned to the sport in a different capacity. Following in his mother’s footsteps, Lewis is coaching at his alma mater, pouring into the next generation of speedsters. 

“I love working with kids, you know, building them up. Those college ones, they’re something else,” Lewis says with a laugh. “Being able to play a role in helping athletes go from amateurism to professionalism is a big feat.”

His approach to life一and the track一has always been done with extreme tenacity and ferocity. But now moving into a role as a coach, instead of a superstar sprinter, he’s shifting his mindset to understand his athletes a little better. 

“When I’m coaching, it’s kind of like half-and-half, cause I understand that they are not me, and I’ve never gotten that mixed-up. I try not to make it about me when I’m coaching,” Lewis says. 

At 60, Lewis is in his more seasoned years, but his acumen for track hasn’t wavered one bit. He claims that he’s in the best shape he’s ever been, and his body supports the notion. In order to effectively coach, Lewis leads by example and maintains a healthy lifestyle that includes a strict schedule with daily workouts, planned meals, and adequate rest to sustain his health. 

As the assistant coach at UH, Lewis has his eyes on the prize: a national title. He’s also training athletes for the 2024 Olympics.

While training athletes at the Olympic level, he is not only promoting physical wellness but advocating against performance-enhancing drugs. He often recalls the 1988 Olympic games, when Lewis lost the 100-meter race to Canadian runner Ben Johnson, who was later stripped of his gold medal for steroid use: “It was always important to emphasize integrity, you know,” Lewis explains. “It’s what gets you far in this life.”

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