At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, United States long jumper, Bob Beamon, realized what psychologist and human behaviorist, Abraham Maslow, termed a “peak experience”—he won the gold medal. Having fouled in two preliminary runs and barely qualifying for the finals, his spectacular jump of 29’ 2-1/2” broke world and Olympic records by close to two feet and added a new term to contemporary sports vocabulary—Beamonesque–meaning ‘a spectacular feat.’
After 34 years his Olympic record still stands, as do his high school and college NCAA records. And while his world record remained unscathed for 23 years in 1991 it finally gave way to a new record holder, Mike Powell, when it was broken by nearly two inches.
Though Beamon’s Olympic gold provides an engaging entree into most conversations he’d rather talk about hope and promise and opportunity and determination and how his difficult life as a teen was turned around by a grandmother’s unwavering love and faith, a juvenile judge’s decision for alternative sentencing and the self-realization that he was headed down the wrong path.
“I didn’t know either of my parents,” said Beamon of his early childhood. “I never knew who my real father was and my mother died when I was 11 months old. Life with my stepfather was difficult because he drank. When he became incarcerated my Grandmother, my step-father’s mother, cared for me.”
Beamon grew up on the streets of South Jamaica in Queens, New York, early years filled with violence and despair. “At 14 I couldn’t read or write and was a war counselor in a gang in the housing projects,” he stated. “When I was arrested and went to juvenile court my grandmother became my only advocate. Instead of sending me to a home she persuaded the judge to send me to an alternative school in Manhattan. It was the best thing that could have happened.”
At the school Beamon concentrated on his ability to out jump his competition and with the help of his stepfather, whose methods to teach him to read and write were harsh at best, he won a scholarship to college in North Carolina. His prowess at track and field won him numerous accolades however his prowess in the classroom was less stellar.
“I was sleeping all day, partying at night and thinking I could breeze though exams by studying the day before. I flunked several classes,” he admitted.
Transferring to the University of Texas Beamon renewed his determination to become a national champion. Having won 22 of 23 NCAA competitions in the long and triple jumps, in 1968 he qualified for the Olympics. And on October 18 Beamon lopped down the runway, pushed off and soared through the air. Landing in the pit Beamon knew immediately he had accomplished something very significant.
After the Olympics he returned to college and in 1972 graduated from Adelphi University in New York with a degree in cultural anthropology. Since that time, Beamon has traveled extensively and worked abroad. For a year and a half he served as director of athletic development for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton where he raised funds for women’s athletic scholarships. Currently he lives in Aventura and is a corporate spokesman for Fortune 500 companies, CEO of Bob Beamon Communications and is a professional speaker.
“My concentration now is helping kids take a leap into life,” he stated of his motivational speaking engagements. “Last year I worked for the Board of Education in New York where I went to alternative schools and put on a musical show. I did the motivational part,” he clarified.
Beamon is committed to children’s issues and serves locally as spokesperson for the Children’s Place at Home Safe, as national spokesperson for the Children’s Courts and is an advocate against blanket legislation to prosecute children as adults. He also raises funds for charity through his annual fundraiser, The Bob Beamon Golf & Tennis Classic which held its 2003 tournament at Indian Spring Country Club in Boynton Beach.
In addition to his charity work and speaking engagements, Beamon has a colorful, artful side.
“I design limited-edition ties. In fact I’ll be unveiling a new design for the 2004 Olympics very soon,” he stated.
Beamon also paints, preferring acrylics to oils, plays golf and basketball, and collects record albums. “I have over 5000 records,” he said. “Everything from rock to Bach.” Beamon is currently single but will soon be tying the knot with his first girlfriend from high school. He has one child, a daughter, who currently attends Florida A&M University.