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Olympic champion Lewis urges organ, tissue donation


WATERTOWN — Carl Lewis credits Wendy Marx with inspiring the second half of his legendary, 18-year track and field career.

So the nine-time Olympic gold medalist has spent the last 25 years trying to repay her for it.

That mission led the 52-year-old Lewis, along with Wendy’s brother, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Marx, to Jefferson Community College on Tuesday night to speak about creating awareness for organ and tissue donation.

“When you’re competing for 18 years, when you’re getting in the middle all the sudden you start drifting, and it kind of helped give me a purpose because we used my opportunity as an athlete to reach out to other people,” Lewis said. “So it did enhance my athletic career in the second half in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.”

Lewis and Jeffrey Marx started writing a book about Lewis’s career in 1988 and that’s when Lewis became aware of the importance of organ donation. A year later on Thanksgiving weekend, Wendy Marx received a liver transplant that saved her life.

The trio then made a vow to do everything necessary to spread awareness about the need for donors. They created the Wendy Marx Foundation, and after Wendy died in 2003 waiting for another transplant, Lewis and Jeffrey Marx have continued traveling the country to discuss the cause.

“We’ve been to large towns, small towns, stadiums and events everywhere,” Lewis said. “And I think it’s so important because you really don’t know who you’re going to touch, anywhere, that’s going to make a difference in so many people’s lives.”

Lewis added: “I’m from a small town in New Jersey, and who would have known that I could talk to the world? So it’s important to go everywhere.”

Lewis, who was visiting the area for the first time, was named “Sportsman of the Century,” by the International Olympic Committee and “Olympian of the Century,” by Sports Illustrated.

In addition to his nine Olympic gold medals and one Olympic silver medal, Lewis won eight gold medals at the World Championships.

“The thing about track and field is you have to be at 99 percent or better or you’re not competitive at that level, so it’s full commitment,” Lewis said. “I’m taking that same tenacity into this area because I know it’s a huge challenge.”

He added: “A lot of people sit back and say, ‘Well we can’t win so let’s just stop.’ The reality is sports teaches you that you have no idea where you’re going to end up unless you give 100 percent.”

Much like during his sprinting and jumping career, Lewis has set lofty goals in this endeavor.

“The ultimate goal is for everyone that’s born to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to donate my organs.’ Then we’re out of business and this is something we can go out of business on.”

Lewis is also a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, a volunteer track and field coach at his alma mater, the University of Houston, and has dabbled in acting.

In his downtime, Lewis said one of his favorite things to do is watch all kinds of sports with his teenage son, particularly his beloved Philadelphia sports teams.

Lewis said they got caught up in the ice dancing routines at this year’s Winter Olympics, and said he was affected by watching Mikaela Shiffrin win a gold medal in the Olympic slalom and the scene that followed when she celebrated the moment with her parents.

“That was very emotional for me. So I’m kind of like that, I’m a sucker like all sports fans. I get caught up in the excellence of it,” Lewis said. “I just love ‘it.’ I love sports and what it means to people and what it does to people. I could see a race, or a game or event, and just be inspired.”

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