PITTSBURG -- Eddie Hart's love for running was evident long before he made it his goal at age 13 to win Olympic gold, a dream fulfilled a decade later when he ran on the U.S. team that captured the 400-meter relay victory at the 1972 games in world record time.
That passion for running also led him to establish the Eddie Hart All In One Foundation 10 years ago. The nonprofit's keynote event is a yearly track-and-field clinic where Hart and other former Olympians and world-class athletes provide expert coaching to disadvantaged youths while helping them learn life skills and develop long-range goals.
The clinics also have included advice from professionals to parents on how to send their kids to college. The most recent clinic was in May at Pittsburg High School, where more than 100 youths attended.
"I'm using track as a tool to prepare them for life, because everybody is not going to be an Olympic champion, everybody is not going to be an Olympian. But they can use their sport or whatever motivates them to go where they want to go," Hart said after taking his customary 3- to 5-mile morning run. "They've got to reach down inside of their soul to figure out what they want out of life and go for it."
But not every race can be won, and as Hart knows better than most, some races are missed. But he says that shouldn't stop someone from pursuing excellence.
At the 1972 Olympic trials, Hart equaled the world record in the 100 meters and was among the favorites to win the event at the Olympics in Munich, Germany. But because of a scheduling error by a coach, he missed the quarterfinal heat and was eliminated from the race he had dreamed of winning since he was an eighth-grader at Central Junior High in Pittsburg.
"I couldn't dwell on it because I had three guys depending on me. I wasn't going to let them down," he said of the race that took away the sting: the 400-meter relay. "If they said, 'Put it into words or die,' I'd probably have to die. I couldn't even say what that felt like to go across that finish line No. 1."
After the Olympics, Hart earned a degree in physical education in 1975 from UC Berkeley, then embarked on a coaching career that spanned more than 30 years at Cal, College of Alameda, and Laney College and Merritt College in Oakland.
"That was my exit strategy. I wanted to stay with track, and the way I could do that was to go into coaching," said Hart, who still has the fit physique of a runner and is training to compete next year in a masters competition for older runners.
In addition to the track-and-field clinic, Hart's foundation supports other athletic events such as the Junior Olympics, along with educational and social activities geared toward young people. It recently donated 200 pairs of athletic shoes valued at $7,300 for use by students who attend Pittsburg schools and programs at STS Academy, a Pittsburg nonprofit.
"He has provided a lot of support to the schools over the course of the years," said Linda Rondeau, superintendent of the Pittsburg Unified School District. "He is a consummate gentleman, and he is always positive and a pleasure to work with."
"He contributes where there is no personal gain for him," said Greg Osorio, a Pittsburg resident and a member of Souljahs, another Pittsburg nonprofit. "He is very much for the community and has a real heart and love for people and for the city of Pittsburg."
Hart's roots run deep in Pittsburg. He graduated from Pittsburg High in 1967 and married his high school sweetheart, Gwen Carter. The Harts, who will be celebrating their 40th anniversary in September, have a daughter, a son and two grandchildren.
Some of Hart's earliest recollections of winning a race occurred at the yearly picnics by the Shell Oil refinery, where his father worked after serving in the Navy.
"My father told me, 'Whatever you do, do your best.' It was very natural and something I enjoyed doing," said Hart, who was born in Martinez.
In 1957, Hart's family moved from Port Chicago to Pittsburg, where his love of running eventually turned him into a track star in high school and college before he competed in the Olympics.
Bobby Lewis, a former mayor of Pittsburg, has been friends with Hart since elementary school.
"Eddie is a great example of giving back to the community, and the work he does with his foundation is a great service to all the residents of Pittsburg and not just the kids who participate in his track program," he said.
Lewis recalled a 50-yard competition that involved the top three sprinters from three classrooms of sixth-graders from the now-closed Village Elementary School, where Hart finished a close second to Collins Myers.
"The 50-yard dash was the premier event, and Eddie was the fastest guy in our class. Eddie didn't win that race," Lewis said. "Collins nipped him at the wire."
Not winning every race is something Hart stresses as key to achieving success.
"Those are your defining moments, where the rubber meets the road. ... Dealing with not winning is a big part of being successful, of becoming a winner, that's what I find," said Hart, who shares that outlook with the youths he works with through the foundation. "You've got to be able to handle these things to be a winner."
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her at Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.
Claim to fame: Winning Olympic Gold and establishing the Eddie Hart All in One Foundation, a nonprofit that works with disadvantaged youth.
Quote: "Those are your defining moments, where the rubber meets the road. Dealing with not winning is a big part of being successful, of becoming a winner, that's what I find."
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