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Olympic Gold Medalist Stays in His Lane and Leaves Inspiring Messages

Bernard Williams started his athletic journey in middle school at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs in Baltimore. “This is where I got a chance to play basketball and baseball,” he said to the Middle School students at assembly on Tuesday, March 28. “I tried boxing but I found out I don’t like to get hit.”

Eventually Williams found out what he did like — running really fast. “Track sort of found me,” he said. And he’s glad it did. Fast-forward to the year 2000: Williams competed in the Olympics in Sydney, Australia and earned the gold as the second leg of the 4x100 meter dash.

It wasn’t always a smooth race to the finish line for Williams. “When I won that gold medal, I was homeless,” he shared. He originally tried out for the USA track team and didn’t make one of the three available spots (he was named an alternate). So he dropped out of college at the University of Florida — something he said “is not the message” of his talk — in order to earn his spot on the team. He traveled around Europe competing in races to prove to the USA coaches that he was fit for the job. “You gotta have faith,” he said. They gave him a spot on the relay team.

The real message of his talk came through Williams’ vivid and comical storytelling loud and clear: Keep going even when it’s hard, and remain focused on the goal. Or, as his coach put it when training him for the relay, “Stay in your lane,” a message that Williams has integrated into his personal brand.

“Believe it or not, getting that gold medal was just the beginning,” Williams said. “I used to think a gold medal meant ‘job done’,” but then he realized that achieving one goal meant it was time to have a new one. So he set out to earn an Olympic medal as an individual competitor, and in 2004, Williams won silver in the 200 meter.

He also set out to finish college, which he did in 2008 when he returned to UF and completed a bachelor’s in sociology. He said achieving that goal — earning his college degree — was like getting a gold medal.

“In order for you to accomplish your goals in sports and in education you have to be willing to deal with the pain,” he told the boys, referencing both the physical pain of training and the discomfort of studying when you’d rather be doing something else.

Winning the gold initially made Williams feel “like a rock star” but he said the best part of being an Olympic champion is “having a platform like this, talking to you all and sharing my story.”

Learn more about Williams’ company BW Pro Techniques.


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