Schwartz: A True Olympic Hero Continues To Make A Difference
By Peter Schwartz
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Joetta Clark Diggs spent 24 years as an elite half-mile runner and represented the United States in the Summer Olympics four times. But it’s what she does now that really makes her special and sets her apart from other athletes. Diggs continues to give back to the community by making sure that our children lead healthy lives.
In 2002, she created the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation and serves as the organization’s executive director. The foundation is committed to teaching good health and positive worth ethics associated with participation in sports.
“What we do is we work with schools K through 12 and we provide gym programs, fitness programs and nutrition programs to the kids, and that’s for boys and girls,” said Diggs. “We’ve been fortunate enough to get sponsors so we could go into the schools and implement these great programs during the course of the year.”
Diggs, 51, also serves as an inspirational motivational speaker. Her foundation includes various annual programs including the “Head 2 Toe” fitness program, the “Fitness Challenge”, “Students Interested In Sports Career Opportunities” and “Joetta’s Geniuses.”
Over 14 years, the foundation has improved the lives of over 50,000 children in the area.
“I have been given the platform of being an Olympian and I believe that I have something to say and I can make a difference in the lives of kids and families,” said Diggs, an inductee of both the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
While competing at the University of Tennessee, Diggs was a nine-time NCAA champion and a 15-time All-American. She was ranked in the top 10 in the world from 1991 through 1998 and was an 11-time USA National Champion.
But it was representing her country at the 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics that gave her the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of children and their families.
“For me, being an Olympian meant I had the opportunity to reach many kids and many people and make a difference by them seeing me run,” said Diggs.
Diggs talks to kids about all sorts of subjects, including the admiration of athletes as role models. While many athletes can be looked at favorably, there are also those who have had their share of negative issues. That’s where parents need to get involved and monitor who their children are looking up to.
But for the most part, it’s OK for a child to put an athlete on a pedestal.
“As far as athletes being role models, I happen to take that as a compliment if someone wants to follow and emulate what I’m doing,” said Diggs. “I believe in being positive and I think I’m a good person. I believe in doing the right thing.”
Doing the right thing is something that Joetta, sister Hazel and brother JJ learned from their parents, Jetta Clark and noted national educator and principal Dr. Joe Clark, who was the subject of the movie “Lean On Me.”
“They taught us to be gracious and to be faithful,” said Diggs of her parents. “If I learned nothing else I learned that it’s important to give your body and also your mind, because a strong body and a strong mind equals a strong future.”
With the lessons learned from her parents, Diggs has the resources to speak about another important subject with kids, and that is the nationwide epidemic of bullying. Her foundation brings in a speaker to talk with children about life skills and about having respect for each other’s life and body.
“We talk about bullying,” said Diggs. “We talk about how it’s not cool to be a bully and the ramifications of being a bully. By and large, we have positive results.”
Diggs and her foundation will be able to celebrate all of the positive results from the past year at the ninth annual “Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Extravaganza,” which takes place on September 19th at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
“It gives us the opportunity to showcase what the foundation did during the year,” said Diggs, who has hosted numerous athletes and Olympians — including Bob Beamon, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Edwin Moses, Harry Carson, Bart Oates and Mark Breland — at past extravaganzas.
Diggs has certainly made an impact over the years as both an athlete and motivational speaker. She is often called on by school districts, colleges and corporations to deliver her outlook on life. Her perspective is one that is very uplifting.
“Everyone cannot be an Olympian, but it’s important to be the Olympian of your life and to be the best that you can be and don’t compare yourself to anyone else,” said Diggs. “Just compare yourself to yourself and make sure that you’re doing your very best.”
Diggs has been able to get her message across to so many people over the years. As a track star, she was a champion and an Olympian. As an advocate for children’s health and fitness, she has made an incredible contribution to society.
As a person, she has been a national treasure.
For more information about Joetta, her foundation and the sports extravaganza, please visit www.joettasportsandbeyond.com.
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