The Street Boy Who Became an Olympic Medallist | Against All Odds

The Street Boy Who Became an Olympic Medallist | Against All Odds

You know, when I was a child, there was no such thing as
a thought of going to the Olympics. My normal life was either
living on the streets, eating out of garbage cans, you know, watching people do drugs, watching my mum do drugs… And so, back then,
the only thought of anything was, “How do I survive every single day?” I was definitely the kid
that everybody said, you know, “If you make it to the age of 16,
we’ll be surprised.” I feel 100% confident saying
that sport saved my life. If you were going to raise
a child the wrong way, you could just follow
exactly what they did. Everything you could do wrong
to a kid was done to him. It’s almost too much to believe that
somebody had gone through that and come out of it
as well as he had. He was only, probably,
a 16, 17-year-old boy and you could see, “Wow, this kid
is really something special.” Without sport in his life,
I don’t think he would’ve made it
out of high school. He’d have been on the streets. This is where I grew up.
This is my roots, if you will. I can relate to seeing that kid
just like me as a young boy. Most kids are playing
games and videos and running around
the neighbourhood. And you know, I’m sitting in a room
or on the streets watching my parents shoot up drugs. And sometimes something would happen where, you know,
my mom overdosed on drugs. It was pretty desperate, in that he learned to be very
resilient living on the street. There were times that he would dig through the trash cans
to find food. He didn’t really even know
how to go to school. I mean, you’re talking about basics,
here, that most kids grow up with from the time they start
at four or five. I know it wasn’t
a traditional childhood, but it was what we had,
and we embraced it. In a world where our mother
was taken away, we don’t know who our father is,
or my father’s in prison, we had each other. There was always a constant thing
where something happened and I was either taken away
to go into a foster home or trying to stay with my grandma
for a little bit of time. There were many, many,
many foster homes and it was at a time, at about 12, when they could not keep him
in a foster home. He would just run away. One evening, late, he called me. He was scared, I could sense it, so I went to pick him up. Yes, I can remember… I mean, if he needed me,
I would take him home with me. My grandma played a very,
very important role. Can never be satisfied
with only a “thank you”. You know, she provided
unconditional love to a grandson that was not
her responsibility. Hey, Grandma! Back when I was a young boy,
and I was very undisciplined and very crazy and didn’t
want to listen to anybody, my grandma stepped in
several different times trying to provide some type
of normalcy in my life. I watered them this morning,
so you don’t need that much. It wasn’t easy, cos I raised
three of my own without a husband, and then when Billy and
his sister came into my life, I did my best. And I taught him to do right, what’s wrong and what’s right. My grandma believed in me
before I believed in me. So she always… You know, I reflect back now and I look back at all
the things that she did – cleaning the house every Saturday, making us clean the house
every Saturday and making sure it was clean,
and taking care of cleaning, taking care of the yard,
pulling weeds, and train hard and
do the right things and not go out and get in trouble
and hang out and party. And it was all those little things
that she did. And maybe she didn’t
even realise it then, – but they were important to me.
– No, I… No. It’s something that you teach
your kids, you know? You’re not aware of it,
but you want them to do things good. – And I hope he’s still doing it.
– Yeah. Clean house! We were together in 8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th, 12th,
then in college, also. So I think our relationship kind of
just went and grew as we grew older. The one person I noticed right away
was a kid named Jake Schulz. He was a clean-looking kid,
everyone liked him, and he was doing
all the different events – you know, he was doing the sprints
and the high jump and hurdles, and all these events. And I noticed everyone was really
attracted to him, just naturally. That’s who I wanted to be like. Oh! What’s up, man? How are you doing? He was different. He was a little
out of control, funny. The kids loved to watch what
he would do to the teachers. I just remember him being kind of
a little out of control in that first period class. You know, I was the only
coloured kid there, and I had this big afro,
raggedy clothes… I remember… I remember 7th grade,
first period, general music. And Ms Smith –
you were climbing on the desk. You and Philip White.
Everybody was like, “Oh, my gosh!” – Yeah.
– “Who is this kid?” In 7th grade, it was, like,
the second day of track practice and he was mouthing off
to the coach, and the coach kicked him
off the team. So 7th grade,
he got kicked off the track team. I thought that was
a really important time, because a lot of kids would have used that as their justification to act out,
but he didn’t. He went through school another year, and then tried out again,
when he made the teams. As we grew,
the focus started to narrow and he started to feel that
he could do something great. It was a perfect fit for me. Gave me an opportunity
to finally find something that I could be passionate about and start setting goals
and just enjoy doing. And basically taking, like,
what I was good at as a street kid and putting it to something
that’s more positive and beneficial in sports. I was covering
a high-school track meet. It was probably 1989, and he was, I believe,
a junior in high school that year, and he was named the outstanding
athlete of the track meet. He won three or four events
and his team won the championship. I kind of made a connection
with him that day and kind of followed
his career ever since then. He needed to have
something else in his life, and sports satisfied that desire,
I guess. I recruited him out of
the high school, and it was mostly phone calls. Then we’d have him come up
and visit the campus, and once he decided to come
to Weber State, that’s when I started coaching him
in the jumping and throwing events. He was the first person
that I had ever coached that when I gave him an instruction, something he needed to change,
he did it. And it blew me away
that one verbal indication of something I wanted changed,
he would get it. Great athletes pick
things up quickly, and he was faster than anybody
I had ever dealt with. Those of us that grew up
in a two-parent home are used to having things
fairly easy, and nothing was easy for him. And I think being used
to the difficulties made it so that he was willing
to just work and work and work until he perfected
his various disciplines. He was the best junior mark
in the decathlon in the world that year – 7,500 points. He was a good hurdler,
he was a good long jumper, he was good at high jump, javelin. So it was pretty obvious early on that he was going to be
a multi-event person, a decathlete. The year of the 2000 Sydney Games was probably the best year,
athletically, for me, in track and field. I was one of the top three Americans going into the USA track and field
championships Olympic trials. In the second event
of the decathlon, which is the long jump,
it happened to be raining that day, my heel slid on the track
and I twisted my ankle to the point where
I almost couldn’t walk on it. So, I got my things
and told my coach I was done. I walked off the track
and I gave up. And, um…for me, that was
a lifelong work, and effort, and overcoming
so many obstacles in my life, you know, tragedies and family stuff
and friends and injuries… Just so many hurdles
in my life that… For it all to end like that
was just a tragedy for me. It was a difficult thing
for him, I know. It’s an amazing story to me that he still managed
to be in that place where the opportunity came up
then to meet someone that was competing
in a completely different world and move on from there. They told me, “Oh, there’s
this sport called bobsled, “and it would be
a perfect fit for you. “You’re athletic, you’re fast, “you’re powerful,
you’re explosive…” I mean, obviously, footballers
and track guys are going to bring a lot
of power and speed. So that’s a natural
for an event like the bobsled. In a sport with 100ths of seconds, you know, one hit, one body
positioned in the wrong place can slow you down. The pushers, I mean,
it’s our job to propel that sled from zero to as fast as possible. The driver, he’s going to guide
the sled down the track. Once we are in, the driver guides,
we get as low as possible and try to mesh with the sled,
try to blend with the curves. His hip muscles, leg muscles
and shoulder muscles, those were really playing into him
being able to push the sled. And he was a great worker
in the weight room, so he could focus more on the lifts and building the strength
where he needed it – to only push. At the time, the Winter Olympics
here in Salt Lake City, it was only a year
and three months away. So what I started doing
is everything and all my focus that I put into track and field
and to make the Sydney Olympic Games was now going to being an Olympian
in the sport of bobsledding. We have 20 or so athletes,
several different sledders, trying to vie for a spot
on the Olympic team. Bill was on one
of the other sleds, we knew he was a good athlete,
but he wasn’t a member of our team. Randy Jones was the man. I’ll be honest,
it was a little bit intimidating because not only was he the man,
but he was on THE team. When we had to pick up
another member, we had a choice of about
three athletes to choose from we all said Bill would probably
be the best for our team. My whole life dreams
of being an Olympian are all staring to come to fruition. So having that opportunity to possibly punch my ticket to
the Olympic Games was unbelievable. Ladies and gentlemen,
welcome to the opening ceremony of the 19th Olympic Winter Games. Olympics is…
Oh, jeez, it’s such a huge event! You just feel this energy that
you cannot get from anywhere else. Pressure was astronomical. I think it was harder
to compete at home, because of the pressure
of winning at home. Back then, the USA had not
won a medal in bobsledding for 40 or 50 years or something. It’d been a long, long time. USA and Germany
were the top two ranked sleds in the world and so it could have
gone to either team. After the first day,
we were in first place, as expected. I think it was tougher to be in
first place after the first day, because you know
you have two more heats. That first run of the second day,
we fell back, quite a bit. You know, “If we have
another run like that, “we might not win a medal at all.” The last heat, it starts snowing. The snow is filling up the track which, of course, is going
to slow down the track. So teams who go off earlier,
they have faster times. This is an opportunity you have
to make a huge difference and you got one shot
to make it happen. We just went out there, and I remember hearing all the chants of “USA!” It was so loud, walking out there, but as soon as I stepped on the ice, it was quiet. It was just a dead silence. Boom! We start,
explosion right out of the blocks, great start, we all load, the load goes really well. You can feel the ride, you can tell each bump, each curve. I mean, you know when it’s good and you know when it’s bad. And the ride was, you know, it was almost perfect. And we get done, we felt we had a good ride. You can’t see what’s going on, yet. All of a sudden, you see the time
go up and, boom! At that point in time,
we were in first place, so that guaranteed us
at least an Olympic medal. I came up, saw that one, a picture in one of the newspapers. You could see me with my hands up,
like, “Yes, I finally did it! “We finally did it!”
You know, “It has been done.” I am happy I was there,
because I lived his dream. When I saw him up there
doing all that, I lived his dream. We’re not supposed to do that. As journalists, we’re supposed
to stay very neutral, say, “Nice job”, but I was so happy
when he got that medal I couldn’t help but give him a hug
and say, “Congratulations”. Team USA! When he was up on that stage
winning his silver medal, I was in the state penitentiary. I remember looking up on that screen and seeing my handsome
little brother and thinking, “It’s like
having a part of me free.” I was thinking at that time
when he was up there when he was a little boy,
when he was going to school… All that came to my mind. So all that is in my heart. The feeling of such satisfaction,
overwhelmed with joy and happiness, is the best way
I could possibly describe that. It’s always been an
interesting thing, I’ve never been able
to perfectly describe what that moment feels
like to anybody, because it’s a feeling
that you only get maybe once in a lifetime, if ever. So many people were like,
“You finally made it, you’re done!” I said, “No, my coach always taught
me that any fool could do it once.” And so I pursued doing
another Olympics. With that, always comes
more sacrifice because, again, that’s
more time away from family. Both times with both my kids… I was gone in competition
and had to fly back for my daughter from Europe to be there
when she was born. And I was there for a week,
and then I left for four months. Same thing with my son. I was in Canada
and I came home when he was born. And left for five or six months. So, you know, it’s great to say that
I accomplished so much, which I did, but also,
there’s a lot of sacrifices that come along with that,
and relationships are one of them. In everything you do,
there is always a price to pay. And for everyone, I think,
it’s different. Some people might say that
it was too big of a price to pay. For me, that… That was not a problem,
I would have paid any price to… I would have paid any price
to make it to the Olympic Games, because, erm… changed my life forever. When I retired, I started spending
more time with my family. It was a brand-new process, it was like learning who
these people were all over again, and building that relationship, and them getting to know me
on a different level. This morning I’m heading out
to Phoenix, Arizona, to go and visit my mom. She has lived there
for about 14 years. So I don’t get a lot of
opportunities to come visit her. Honestly, this is probably
the first opportunity we’ve had to talk on a normal basis… ..and talk about our story together. It’s going to be a very special day,
a very special… Erm, it’s going to be
a very special, emotional day. My mom chose a path
of living a crazy life with, you know,
drugs and homelessness, prostitution and all these other
different things. Unfortunately, it takes a lot
of people down the wrong path. It’s the only picture I have,
the one and only. I don’t have any other pictures
of my mom and I together. And it’s very special
because I have no pictures also from when I was a baby. So I’ve always had this picture
with me and I always keep it close. Thank you. – Hello, how are you?
– I’m fine! – Good. You are?
– I’m Liliana. Liliana, finally!
Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. – Are you going to see your mom?
– I’m going to see my mom. Sure,
she is so excited to see you. Hi, son. Let me see you. I haven’t changed a bit. Your hair’s short. I know, they chopped it off. I’ve never seen your hair short. I know, but I’m going
to let it grow, now. God, you look so beautiful! – Handsome as ever.
– I’m so happy to see you. Yeah, me too.
I’ve been waiting for this day. Everyday I just keep saying,
“What am I going to do? “How am I going to act?” They just say, “Be yourself.” I don’t know what to say,
I’m just so happy to see you! I’m breathless. – We’re here. Finally, we’re here.
– Yeah. And then I have also my Olympic
silver medal, from the Olympics. Oh, wow! Look, Pat! See his medal? – God, it’s heavy!
– I know! How could you wear
that around your neck? For a very short period of time. When I’m down and out, I can come
out here and think about things. You know, try to remember things
that I used to do, and what I used to do with my kids. And I hope and pray that my kids
have learnt to forgive me, because that’s very important to me. Well, I’ve told you, you know, you say sorry all the time
and you don’t need to. If you need to hear me say
that I forgive you, erm… I’ll say I forgive you, but there’s
nothing you need to be forgiven for. Thank you. I just want to tell you
how proud I am of you. You are? – I’m glad.
– You’re still here. Oh, yeah,
I’m not going to go nowhere! Yeah. Like I said, it’s just nice to see
that you’re safe and healthy. – And happy.
– And happy. I’m very happy here. You’re surrounded by people
that are loving and caring. Yeah, they are. We have very good
caretakers…caregivers. – But I’m proud of you.
– Thank you. I’m proud of you. Very proud. Most people were like, “You’re a bad
person, you’re a troublemaker “and you’re never going
to amount to anything.” So, for me, to go from that
to the Olympic Games, not only once, but three times,
win an Olympic medal, that was against all odds. At the end of it all,
instead of acting like the victim and being bitter and mean and tough,
he’s a nice guy. Why did you get so fast?
How did you become so fast? I mean, maybe he was running from
something, running to something. As time goes by, and you see
what this little boy became, then you say, “I did a good job.” I’m very proud of Bill. I think that what he’s accomplished,
it helps everyone. There’s no big prize at the end of
that trail for most Olympians, there’s not
a multimillion dollar contract. What motivated me was getting away
from that lifestyle, and I wanted my kids
to be able to look up to their dad and say, “Oh, my dad actually
did something special.”

68 thoughts on “The Street Boy Who Became an Olympic Medallist | Against All Odds

  1. What makes this guy a true Champion is not just his Olympic medal. It's the fact that even though he's so accomplished, he still takes the time to help his Grandma out with the garden and is still kind to people around him. That's a next-level athlete.

  2. So incredible to have such a difficult childhood, yet able to forgive the mother who subjected him to a depraved environment. Cheers to the grandmother who stepped in to raise him into adulthood.

  3. What an amazing life-changing story from such an incredible young man. For him to come back home and revisit his mother in her diminished state after yrs of being apart with only love, compassion, and forgiveness for her is awe inspiring. He is an inspiration to all humans. Thank God for great grandmothers, teachers, coaches, and mentors. You never know how you may impact the life of a child. The simplest acts of kindness and care speak volumes.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story in a positive light, including the people who came into your life for short periods of time that supported you along the way. You got into the most exhilarating fun Olympic sport! Stay safe! Always and Forever!

  5. Great story…..amazing man. But bobsledding??? Lol.. I grew up in Lake Placid and bobsledders are not athletes like a figure skater. Its a joke…..

  6. If I had been his mom, I could not have gone on camera (look at her arms all wrecked from needles…..shame). You should not have to apologize to your kids! He's an exceptional kid.

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  8. Dear Bill,

    Thank you so very much for sharing just some of the many thrilling times and experiences of your life** . You are an inspiration! I hope you realize that you can & you should ALWAYS be proud of yourself !

    It is abundantly clear that you possess an open, gentle and loving heart and soul.

    The loving interaction with your mother (in spite of all you suffered as a kid) was as important as the amazing athletic achievements portrayed in this well-made little film.
    You have a singular determination & an incredible bravery! You grabbed hold of YOUR life and transformed it by giving all of yourself to every opportunity that was offered to you!!
    It is men & women like yourself, who fill me with hope for our futures. Enjoy your beautiful family as you go forth on the journey of your life.

  9. Great story, doesn't matter the hand your dealt, if you keep trying, keep pushing, persevere, you will succeed!

  10. When I see homeless people on the street of one of the most christen states, it just breaks my heart because what is happening is NOT christen!

  11. "Everything that could be done wrong to a kid was done to him". And the wrongdoers were so unimaginative and banal!

  12. Alcoholics, drug addicts, lazy people, etc. should learn from Bill. America is the best country in the world which gives many opportunities for job and help (including welfare, food stamp, disability, etc.) that other countries like in Middlleeast or Asia don't have. So no excuse for homeless….

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