How Sri Chinmoy Inspired Carl Lewis to Become a Champion Runner

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Carl Lewis is an American track and field athlete who won nine gold medals at the Olympics, and eight golds at the World Championships, as well as a number of silver and bronze medals. Indeed, Lewis is one of few people to win a gold medal in the same individual event in four consecutive Olympic games (1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996).

Lewis was the dominant track-and-field athlete of his time. He first met Sri Chinmoy in 1983 and became a student. On July 20, 1984, after receiving his gold medal for the 100-meter race at the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, Lewis turned and bowed to Sri Chinmoy who was present in the audience. The papers that covered Lewis’ victory referred to Sri Chinmoy as “the running guru,” and shared that Lewis had “sought spiritual and athletic advice” from Chinmoy before each of the events in which he participated.

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On August 13, 1984, Lewis was a special guest at Sri Chinmoy’s Peace Concert event in Santa Ana, where he was introduced by the man himself. “This evening we are soulfully, divinely honored, and supremely proud of having the unparalleled champion athlete of the world – 1984 Olympic Games, Carl Lewis.”

Sri Chinmoy and the principles he taught, including those of meditation, were never far from Lewis thoughts. For example, in August 1991 Lewis competed in the World Championship Games in Tokyo. Before the games began, Lewis performed Sri Chinmoy’s theme song, “World Championship” for a Japanese TV show showcasing the event. On August 25, 1991, Lewis earned a gold medal at this championship, setting a world record in the process. He sent the shoes he had worn to Sri Chinmoy as a 60th birthday present.

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Carl Lewis’ described his meditation process in the book Sport and Meditation. “I would start 100 meters, and the person would say come to your mark, and I would get down to my mark, and then I would clear my mind. Just go quiet and try to listen for the farthest sound away from me. I had generally the fastest time of any of the athletes because I would clear my mind and listen for the gun…just having my peace, where it all stops, and you’re just aware of where you need to be. I think there’s a source of strength in that silence because the 100 meters is the ultimate dichotomy – it’s total relaxation and explosion. Every record I set, I knew it was a record because it was the easiest race I ran.”

On Sri Chinmoy’s passing in 2007, Lewis said: “His life was all about challenging yourself and being the best you can be. He told his disciples to go out and meet a challenge you don’t think you can do.” And that’s the philosophy Lewis followed throughout his running career.