Icebreaker

No Obstacle Too Great — Track & Field Hall of Famer John Carlos empowers the next generation.



Walking with John Carlos is like keeping pace with a racehorse. His tall, athletic frame constantly moves — shoulders pivoting, legs churning, head bobbing. But when he stops to level his eyes on you, to make a point, to tell an old story, or, in this case, to admonish a student who has been seen in his in-school suspension office at Palm Springs High School one too many times, the world comes to a screeching halt.

“Did you hear her?” he asks, regarding the student. “The teacher got her in trouble.” Carlos erupts with a hearty laugh and it’s then that you notice that despite the various hurdles the 58-year old has had to clear, the years have ultimately been a friend to him. His face is easy, his voice alive, his message just as clear. “If I can help one kid get better, just one, I’m doing my job.”

Best known (along with fellow sprinter Tommie Smith) for raising a gloved fist in recognition of Black Power during medal ceremonies at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Carlos was thrust from the relative anonymity of track and field into the cultural DNA of a generation, his bowed-head visage becoming the symbol of a civil rights movement still slogging through the morass of time. It was an unlikely fame for Carlos and one that ultimately dealt him a blow when he returned home.

“It’s very difficult when you’ve been raised all your life to do a job, to be the bread winner, to be a good husband and father, all of which I did prior to 1968,” Carlos says. “I took great pride in that. After Mexico, overnight, the roof fell in. No job. Lack of association with people you thought were your friends. All of a sudden, I couldn’t provide for my wife and kids. But I wasn’t too proud. I took menial jobs, anything to support my family.”

What it always came back to, Carlos says, was working with children and making sure children, especially his own, were able to achieve the things for which he risked his very career — a decision that ultimately led to him settling in Palm Springs in 1987. “We were living in Los Angeles and the gang situation was awful,” he says. “I wanted my daughters to get a chance to learn in a safe environment.” En route to Georgia, where Carlos and his wife had decided to settle, the family stopped in Palm Springs for the night. Seventeen years later, they’re still here. Since 1988, Carlos has worked at Palm Springs High School in a number of capacities and is currently track and field coach and in-school suspension supervisor, a role befitting a man whose life has been touched by both despair and greatness.

But it’s the greatness that drives Carlos. Last year — 35 years since Mexico City — Carlos was finally elected to the Track & Field Hall of Fame, an overdue recognition long fraught with politics for a man once known as the “world’s fastest human.”

“It was a great honor for my family,” he says. He leans forward then and settles his eyes on a point in the distance. “But it was just another step in my life. I was never concerned about getting into the Track & Field Hall of Fame; I’m just concerned about getting into God’s Hall of Fame.”

Palm Springs Life

Related Articles

Friends of the Desert Mountains Make Hiking Cool in the Summer

Friends of the Desert Mountains has begun a series of hikes around the area that keep you cool and give a closer look at the great outdoors.

Health Apps

From mapping your moods to measuring steps, these popular apps — used alone or together — offer all that’s needed to inspire and support personal mind and body health and fitness goals.

Palm Springs Power Pitcher Takes Aggressive Posture

Bermuda Dunes native Doug Finley enters his third summer with the Palm Springs Power where he has become more aggressive from the mound.

Under the Open Sky

The season’s sunny days and warm nights present the perfect opportunity to get back to basics with a campout.

Tamarisk Country Club Reignites Golf History by Hosting Pro-Am

Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage marks its return to hosting a golf tourney since it last staged the Bob Hope Classic in 2005.

Promotions + Contests

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couple’s getaway
90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Each month, a first place winner will be selected to win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!And, each month, three additional runners up will be selected to win a wonderful Palm Springs area Dining certificate!
2013/14 Best of the Best

2013/14 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter just once for a chance to win tickets to one of the second annual Palm Desert International Dance Festival performances.