Baton Rouge has been good to Carl Lewis. As a collegiate star at the University of Houston, Lewis recorded an historic “double” when he placed first in both a track and a field event—the 100-meter race and the long jump—at the NCAA Championships held at LSU in 1981. “It rained so hard they had to move the long jump indoors,” recalls Lewis. “Louisiana weather!”
Carl Lewis has been good to the city many times in return, appearing with former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown and at a free track-and-field clinic at Catholic High School, among others. Soon the nine-time Olympic gold medalist and most decorated track-and-field athlete in history will be back in Baton Rouge for a charity fundraiser coinciding with the 30th anniversary of his “double” at the NCAAs. The event includes a meet-and-greet and a night of conversation on stage with his friend and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jeffrey Marx at the Manship Theatre.
The author and the athlete met in 1988 before the Summer Olympics in Seoul and began work on Lewis’ first book, Inside Track, soon after. It was in the fall of 1989, as Lewis and Marx were becoming friends and writing partners, that Marx’s sister Wendy contracted hepatitis B. After she received a life-saving liver transplant, Lewis pledged to help Marx raise awareness for organ donation, and the Wendy Marx Foundation was born. Marx’s sister passed away in 2003, but he and Lewis carry on her message, and proceeds from Lewis’ appearance will go toward the foundation.
After he retired in 1997, shortly after his remarkable gold-medal long jump at age 35, Lewis tried his hand at acting. But he has focused most of his time on giving back. He has been active with Best Buddies, and two years ago, he moved from Los Angeles back home to New Jersey to be near his mother and volunteer as a track coach at his old high school.
Lewis’ appearance at the Manship marks the first in a new interview series Marx will use to bring renowned figures from business, entertainment, politics and sports to Baton Rouge, a city he has called home for nearly five years. Marx’s most recent book, The Long Snapper, recounts LSU alum Brian Kinchen’s remarkable journey from NFL football player to high school teacher and back again as a Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots.
Named the Olympian of the Century by Sports Illustrated, and now a world-traveling, hunger-fighting U.N. Ambassador, Lewis has a story like no other—even if he downplays past achievements in favor of current passions. “Food and water are such huge problems in many parts of the world,” says Lewis, who recently returned from a U.N. mission to Haiti. “Wars are fought over those resources. I felt honored the U.N. asked me to be involved. I’m just some runner, you know?”
Yeah, some runner. Lewis set the world on fire with his record-setting long jumps and 100-meter sprints. But he says the feeling of moving at that velocity is relative. “In terms of speed, it feels exactly like anyone’s fastest run,” he says. “If anything, it feels smoother, because at that speed, Olympic sprinters are running more relaxed.”
Marx promises some entertaining surprises for the night of his interview with the five-time Olympian, including photos and video packages that might keep even the ever-agile Lewis on his toes.
“It’s exciting to do an event like this in Baton Rouge where I know people,” Lewis says. “And Jeff and I know each other so well, it’s going to be like if I was sitting down with my brother, and he was asking me the questions. How many people get to do that?”
Jeffrey Marx Presents an Evening with Carl Lewis will be held Sat., May 21, at 7 p.m. at Manship Theatre. Proceeds benefit the Wendy Marx Foundation for Organ Donor Awareness. For tickets and more information, visit manshiptheatre.org.