Bob Beamon didn’t get a lot of encouragement as a child. Raised by his grandmother, his mother died of tuberculosis when he was 11 months old, and he never knew his father. He struggled with doubt, thinking he was unwanted, for many of his early years. In high school, a coach offered a glimmer of hope, saying he had the talent to go to the Olympics if he kept working hard. And he did.
It’s been 40 years since Beamon literally walked on air, obliterating world and Olympic records with a long jump of 29 feet 2½ inches at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
“Does it seem like 40 years?” he asks rhetorically. “Yes, particularly when I try to get out of bed in the morning, or when I try to do something like bench press 100 pounds. But it still is wonderful for me to reflect on it. It keeps me focused. I definitely think about that jump all the time. Yep, all the time.”
Since his shining moment in Olympic history, Beamon has spent most of the past 40 years working with underprivileged children. He has been a trustee for the United Way, a spokesperson for the Children’s Courts as an advocate against legislation to prosecute troubled children as adults, and he has hosted the Bob Beamon Celebrity Golf and Tennis Classic in South Florida for the past 10 years to raise money for children’s causes. His Bob Beamon Organization for Youth Inc. is dedicated to providing a path for troubled children to receive education, housing and health services.
Eloquent and thought-provoking, Beamon has become a sought-after public speaker. “I have a few messages, but education is the main thing,” he says. “It’s to get kids to deal with reality. Many of them become involved in drugs or something else, and it’s a dirty world when they get into drugs."
Beamon compares the situations of stuggling inner-city youths to those in Third World countries, hoping to awaken a sense of appreciativeness and esteem.
“You know, overseas in the little villages of Africa, for example, there is no hope,” he says. “The children are dying of diseases and hunger and they can’t get medicine. Our kids here are throwing away food. We are really blessed over here, and I tell them that. I tell them, ‘I don’t care what color your skin is, what nationality you are or what religion you preach, there is opportunity here.’ ”
Beamon’s latest project , the “Beamonesque LEADers,” is a program that teaches life skills to a group of 15 high school seniors over a six-month period. He is as dedicated as ever in improving the lives of at risk youngsters as ever.
A few years ago, at a Manhattan hotel where he was a guest, the hotel’s assistant manager approached him. “Remember me, Mr. Beamon?” the young man asked. Beamon smiled but shook his head. “One day you gave an incredible speech at our school,” the young man told him. “I just followed what you said and tried to make something of myself. I just wanted to thank you for it.”
For Beamon, those experiences are the payoff and motivator behind his success, and the success of those he inspires.