One successful athlete is spreading the message that hard work pays off.
Olympic gold medalist Derrick Adkins visited BronxWorks Classic Community Center to speak to kids from two BronxWorks summer programs about perseverance on Monday, July 28.
Adkins, who won gold in the 400-meter hurdle event in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympic Games, travels to schools and summer programs all across the city with the New York Road Runners Youth and Community Services.
Since his athletic career ended, he has concentrated on giving back, recognizing the importance positive role models and community organizations played in his own success.
“I look to be the person to inspire the next generation of young people,” said Adkins.
Adkins told his audience of 5 to 12-year-olds about his long road to the Olympics, starting with a community track team at age 7. He said he was an average kid until a growth spurt at the end of high school, and that his years of practice combined with his new physicality meant he finally started to win a lot of races, earning a track scholarship to Georgia Tech.
After setting his sights on the Olympics, he initially failed to make the 1992 team. He made the team four years later and won gold, adding the ultimate award to two national championships and a world championship.
“I learned that to succeed in life, it takes a lot of hard work,” he said about his journey to the podium.
But Adkins emphasized that while it’s great to work hard in sports, it’s more important for the kids to work hard in school. Sports are not the only road to scholarships, he said, and athletes still need to keep their grades up to stay on the team.
It was only after he had his mechanical engineering degree in hand did he concentrate exclusively on running, he said.
“School comes first,” he said.
Teamwork is also important to being successful, Adkins told the kids. He characterized teamwork as being nice, helpful, and not selfish.
“I’m not just talking about sports, I’m talking about teamwork in life,” he said. “It will help you grow.”
He knows the messages he’s trying to get across to the kids are the same things their teachers or counselors are telling them, said Adkins.
“But sometimes it’s good for someone from the outside world to come in and reinforce that message,” he said.
BronxWorks director Eileen Torres said that she felt Adkins would be an inspiration to the kids at the center, showing them how it’s possible to achieve your dreams through hard work.
“To see someone who looks like them achieve something as fantastic as an Olympic gold medal encourages them to reach for the stars,” said Torres.