Olympian visits Lincoln
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 2:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 2:09 p.m.
Olympic bronze and silver medalist Will Claye displayed the hardware he won at the 2012 London Olympics this summer to students at Lincoln Middle School as he told them about the tremendous odds he overcame on his way to becoming a U.S. Olympian.
Claye, 21, who was invited to speak at the school Friday by Lenora Turner, a Lincoln language arts teacher, shared many laughs with the students, whom he said he could relate to because it wasn't long ago when he was in middle school.
Turner said she thought the students would be inspired by Claye, a former University of Florida athlete who competed in the triple jump and the long jump, who won the silver medal in the triple jump and the bronze medal in the long jump at the London Olympics.
Claye said his journey to the Olympics began when he started running track in the fifth-grade in Phoenix, Ariz. He said he signed a track scholarship with the University of Oklahoma, where he won the 2008 NCAA Men's Outdoor Track and Field Championship in the triple jump as a freshman on his 18th birthday. Claye said his performance dropped off during his sophomore year at Oklahoma in 2009 because of stress fractures in his back and his leg.
"The doctors told me I might not jump again," said Claye, adding that he transferred to UF in summer 2010.
Claye, who trained hard to get back into shape and to recover from his injuries, told the students to always believe in themselves and to work hard to make their dreams come true.
Hassan Muhammad, an eighth-grader at Lincoln, said he was very impressed with Claye and was honored he took the time to speak at Lincoln.
"I enjoyed it a lot," Hassan said. "He is from the Olympics and he took the time to come see us. I liked seeing his medals and I liked when he said he is going to stay in school until he get his degree. I want to be a football player, but I want to also go to school to be an engineer because you have to have a back-up plan."
Claye let the students hold his medals and posed with some of them at the end of his 45-minute speech. He smiled throughout, often laughing with the students. He was asked numerous questions, including whether he was faster than former UF sprinter and football player Jeff Demps, who won a silver medal with the U.S. Olympic 4x100 relay team at the London Olympics.
"No," Claye answered.
Claye said his days during track season are spent training from 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. He said it was a tough decision to turn pro after the 2011 World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, South Korea, but he did so because he always wanted to be able to take care of his mother, a native of Sierra Leone, Africa.
One student asked Claye if he had a "back-up plan" for life. Claye told the students he is investing his money wisely and is pursuing a bachelor's degree in family, youth and community sciences at UF.
As the session came to an end, Claye said he enjoyed his time with the students.
"This meant a lot to me and I had a lot of fun because it reminded me of back in the day when I was in middle school," Claye said. "I just hope that something I said will stick in their heads, and I hope my time here has made just a small difference in one of their lives."