Keith Rucker provides opportunity for athletes through Ex-champion Evander Holyfield's philanthropy and good will
By Gary Montgomery
The Olympic games...
...are a sports junkie's heaven. Three weeks of continuous action featuring the greatest athletes in the world competing against each other.
But, pause for a moment and think about the road traveled by these great athletes to reach the world's greatest stage.
Holyfield USA's founder and director, Keith Rucker knows the hardships endured by world class athletes and has made it his life's work to help them achieve their goal. With the financial backing of the former Olympian and Heavyweight Champion of the world, 28-year-old Rucker, has crafted Holyfield USA into a beacon of hope for those without the means to pursue Olympic dreams. Rucker's mission is simple. "We want to develop Olympians".
Becoming a professional in any sport is a difficult and challenging endeavor. No sport more so than track and field. Baseball, basketball and football players typically travel a predetermined path throughout their high school and college development. At the end of that path, they are drafted into the professional ranks and awarded lucrative contracts, assuring their financial futures.
Athletes participating in the individual sports like tennis, golf and track and field travel a different road. This requires huge developmental investments to position themselves for the great rewards. Tennis and golf however, have a slight advantage over Track and Field.
These athletes typically come from a narrower socioeconomic spectrum, one more affluent with more available resources to acquire the needed training and facilities to maximize their success. Track and field draws its athletes from the entire socioeconomic spectrum and yet success requires huge financial investments in training and facilities to advance in the sport.
Without sponsorship an athlete has little chance of rising to the Olympic level.
Yet, Track and Field athletes nearly always need to achieve Olympic dominance in order to garner the kinds of monetary rewards needed to secure ones future. Many promising track and field athletes never reach their potential simply because the personal investment required is too high.
Rucker, a tall, youthful looking young man who could easily be confused with one of his athletes can always be found trackside whenever his athletes are competing. He is easy to spot, just watch any Holyfield USA athlete after their event. They will lead you drectly to Keith, counciling and offering encouragement after each event.
Rucker, a caseworker in Atlanta foster kids progam and a youth coach formed a special bound with the former champ during his youth coaching years. Several of Holyfield's kids were members of Rucker's Quicksilver track clubs. There, Rucker and Holyfield found many hours to engage in deep discussions. It was also during these years that the Champ came to know and develop his absolute admiration and trust in Rucker. . "Mr. Holyfield told me on many occasions that I would go far in life no matter what I decided to do". said Rucker.
It was Holyfield himself who urged Rucker to pursue a greater challenge in life. "One day he asked me, What is it that you would like to do in life? I had no answer". Fortunately, Holyfield would pose that question to Rucker many more times. Over the next few years, Rucker and Holyfield would have many discussions about the future. "I still had no answer, but I knew that there were great athletes like Milton Campbell with no sponsor and I have always wanted to work with professional athletes".
"Finally, one day I told Mr. Holyfield that this is what I wanted to do, help athletes reach the Olympics. Mr. Holyfield said, if that's what you want to do put it together and we'll do it."
The program helps athlete with every aspect of their professional development. It provides financial support and removes those obstacles that prevent the athletes from focusing their complete attention toward reaching the Olympics.
"Without Keith and the program I don't know how I would make it. I'd have to try and come out of my own pocket, I guess," said Robbie Hughes who will compete in the 110-meter hurdles in Athens.
Hughes is just one of several Holyfield USA athletes favored to medal in Athens, including Jebreh Harris (800 m), Micah Harris (110 hurdles) Milton Campbell (400 m), and Labronze Garnett (400 m hurdles) and several others.
Holyfield USA currently has 13 athletes in the program. "Our goal is to have 40 athletes, 20 male and 20 female. We take athletes from any area of the country. They don't have to live in Atlanta. We have athletes from all over America.
Rucker allows his athletes to work with their own coaches at their home locations. They plan and submit meet schedules and travel requirements directly to him. He guides them along away. "There are always problems to solve, my phone rings all night long. I am constantly on the phone with athletes about something." It could be a missed flight or lost pair of track shoes, whatever the particular problem, Rucker is there to help mitigate the problem and allow the athletes to get their attention back on their goals.
Rucker's program acceptance requirements are simple. "We first determine whether an athlete is good enough. At that point the athlete must commit to the shared goal of continually improving their performance. Its up to them (after acceptance into the program). They must take full advantage of the equipment, shoes and cost offsets that we provide. We do as much as we can." continued Rucker.
"Mr. Hollyfield has been a great mentor to me. I have been blessed having him believe in me and give me this great opportunity. I try to do the same with our athletes. They are all required to have some community involvement to whatever extent possible. They are also required to conduct themselves with the highest regard for the sport. "I tell them, there is no Mr. Nike or Mr. Adidas out there, but there is a Mr. Holyfield and he has always been known as a gracious and humble champion, and that's what we want to be."
Rucker's Holyfield USA athletes are expected to do well in Athens and bring home a trove of medals. No matter what their final medal count you can be assured that they will compete hard and make all of America proud.
Gary Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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