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Edwin Moses was one of the best ever at clearing hurdles on the track.
Now, the two-time Olympic gold medal winner is helping kids in underserved neighborhoods clear their own hurdles.
Moses is chairman of the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation, which supports the training and placement of coaches in sports-based youth development programs in U.S. cities.
He’s in Boston today, where a new batch of coaches is completing training at Up2Us’s Coach Across America Training Institute, which Laureus supports. The coaches will move on to after-school programs.
“We’re here to train coaches to work with kids that don’t have the opportunities to have physical education programs, that don’t have the opportunity to have parents that can afford to send them to camps and so forth,” Moses told Here & Now.
Laureus is also active in cities including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans. And the coaches don’t focus only on sports. They also teach kids about leadership and life skills.
“Sometimes that’s all it takes to make a difference,” Moses said. “You could see kids doing anything from playing soccer, other types of coordination games. In one of the projects in New Orleans, they have at this particular school, they actually have a garden where they grow vegetables and fruits, and a kitchen where they prepare and learn how to make recipes that are much more healthy for the kids.”
Moses says the programs that he benefited from when growing up in Dayton, Ohio, are gone.
“Fortunately, in my childhood years, there were federal programs that basically do what private industry — Mercedes-Benz, Coach Across America, Up2Us — have to do. All we had to do was get to the city park, because there was federal programs that went to the state, that went to the city, and that money was dispersed to the park,” Moses said.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
(SOUNDBITE OF OLYMPIC BROADCAST)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Now here comes Edwin Moses. Moses is going to be alone coming off the turn...
CHAKRABARTI: Well, that is from the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics when Edwin Moses set a world record in the 400-meter hurdle, still thrilling to listen to. He won gold again in Los Angeles in 1984 and a bronze in the 1988 Seoul games. And get this: During his legendary track career, Edwin Moses was so dominant he more - won more than 100 consecutive races. Today, Edwin Moses is helping others clear hurdles. He's the chairman of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA. It's an organization that aims to improve the lives of young people through sports. He's in Boston today as a part of that effort and joins us now in the studio. Edwin Moses, such a pleasure to meet you.
EDWIN MOSES: Thank you. Glad to be here.
CHAKRABARTI: So first of all, tell us more about the work you're doing with this foundation and what brings you to Boston.
MOSES: We're here to train coaches to work with kids that don't have the opportunities to have physical education programs, that don't have the opportunity to have parents that can afford to send them to camps and so forth. Through Up2Us, we are in partnership with an organization called Coach Across America, and Laureus, our organization, works closely with Mercedes-Benz USA, which is our partner, and we fund the training of the coaches that are going to go out and serve the kids in the neighborhood.
CHAKRABARTI: And the funding's very important because in a lot of school districts, it's exactly physical education and things like that that's getting cut.
MOSES: That's been a decline we've seen transpire over the last 20 years. And it's up to the private industry and private organizations, and that's the reason why Mercedes-Benz are sponsor of our international foundation and also here, Laureus USA. That's why we partner with them to do something about that situation.
CHAKRABARTI: Now, the foundation is active in a lot of other cities: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans. What are some of the projects that you've got going on elsewhere?
MOSES: All the projects are similar. The similarity is that we deal with kids who come from scenarios in which they don't have the best of public services and/or services that they should have in high school. And what we also do is bring in these coaches which teach them about leadership, life skills. And sometimes that's all it takes to make a difference. And we provide a safe environment, after-school environment with trained personnel to provide them with instruction and leadership and just talk to them and give them a safe, non-hostile environment to go to.
CHAKRABARTI: Right. So describe, like, if we were standing at one of the schools where the program's going on, what would we be seeing? What do the kids do?
MOSES: You could see the kids doing anything from playing soccer, other types of coordination games. They could be - in one of the projects in New Orleans, they have - at this particular school, they actually have a garden where they grow vegetables and fruits and a kitchen where they prepare and learn how to make recipes that are much more healthy for the kids. So we deal with obesity, diet, fitness, team building, life skills, all types of scenarios.
CHAKRABARTI: And the coaching is such an important key part of this, right, because the coaches aren't just there for the sports. They're there to build relationships with the kids.
MOSES: They're there to build relationships and also to direct the kids away from activities that would not be good for them. For example, at our project in Chicago, it's dead smack in the middle, right on the dividing line between two of the big Chicago gangs, and these kids had to walk through virtually a war zone just to get home. But this particular school was labeled as a safe harbor, and the kids from either side of the block participated in the programs there. And they didn't have any significant problems. So it's kind of like a safe ground, safe area for these kids.
CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. So what's the key thing that you and members of the foundation tell the coaches in this training? I mean, I guess another way to ask you this, how do you coach the coaches?
MOSES: Well, it's done very professionally. Many of the coaches come from these neighborhoods or come from a similar type of environment. They're college graduates. We've had coaches who have done - studied investment banking and also coaches who have studied PE and history, social studies, social sciences and whatnot. So it's a diverse group of people that really want to serve. It's just amazing that from their perspective it's all about service, and they want to give back. And they want to give back in ways that are unusual and ways that really make a difference.
CHAKRABARTI: You know, I'm sitting across the table from you. I'm sitting across from an Olympian and a person who still defines, you know, the sport that you ran for so many years and it makes me wonder - describe how important coaches were to you during your career.
MOSES: Fortunately, in my childhood years, there were federal programs that basically do what private industry, Mercedes-Benz, Coach Across America, Up2Us have to do. All we had to do was get to the city park because there was federal programs that went to the state, that went to the city, and that money was dispersed to the parks. So your teachers on vacation, retired teachers, college students home during the summer break, high school kids who wanted to volunteer were all employed by the city governments to be at the parks all over town. And so all a kid had to do was to get to a park.
Those days are gone. And not only that, we had organized physical education. And we have attended congressional hearings, and Congress is very disturbed that obesity is on the rise. Then you have your social ills: teenage pregnancy, gangs, children with behavioral problems. All these things can be alleviated if kids got more physical activity for starters.
It's not going to solve the problem, but the kids needs to be more physical, learn about discipline, learn about sportsmanship, learn about team building. These are the kinds of things that are life skills that can change a kid's life.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Edwin Moses, while you're here, we have to go back and talk a little bit about your career for a minute or two, if we may. So let's go back to the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when you set the world record in the 400-meter hurdles. And we've got a bit a tape here. Here's Jim McKay on ABC describing the scene as you received the gold medal.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED VIDEO)
JIM MCKAY: There's Edwin Moses from Morehouse College in Atlanta, who never ran the 400-meter hurdles till about a year ago, only ran it seriously this year, ready to receive a gold medal in the Olympic Games, and Mike Shine with him.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Edwin Moses...
MCKAY: It is.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Etats-Unis. United States.
CHAKRABARTI: What's it like to hear that again?
MOSES: That's great. You know, when I was down there, that particular day, for me, the Olympics was over when I crossed the finish line. I had no idea of what was going to happen after that.
CHAKRABARTI: And is it true that you'd only been running the 400 hurdles for a year before that?
MOSES: Not even a year. I ran my first race the end of March, 1976. And less than four months later I was Olympic champion. But I had the background. It's not like I just ran one day and all of a sudden became a champion. I was very good at 400 meters, 440 back then, and I was very good at the high hurdles. And 400 hurdles is a combination of those two.
CHAKRABARTI: I love how matter-of-fact you are about it. But you were...
MOSES: It was a lot of work. It's...
CHAKRABARTI: You were so dominant in this event for so long.
MOSES: Yeah, yeah.
CHAKRABARTI: What's your - what do you think that is?
MOSES: Well, I looked at things differently than most other track athletes, and the way that most people look at the sport of track and field. The average person thinks that we just go out there or we were born to run, but there's a lot of training. No one runs fast, from Usain Bolt to myself to Michael Johnson, none of us run fast without an extreme amount of training. Like today, you see kids walking around dribbling a basketball. I had a bag with track shoes in it, and I used to go to the track every day.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Edwin Moses is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner. He's now chairman of the Laureus Foundation. It's an organization that supports programs that use sports to help young people improve their lives. Mr. Moses, thank you so much for coming in.
MOSES: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
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JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
CHAKRABARTI: And I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. Robin Young returns tomorrow. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.