COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Paralympic bronze medalist and blind judo world champion Dartanyon Crockett hasn’t always been in the position to give, but he has always wanted to help where he sees a need.
Last week, Crockett and friends delivered more than 300 winter jackets in addition to hats, scarves, gloves and other cold-weather essentials to Colorado Springs residents in need. In the third installment of his annual coat drive, Crockett surprised students at Stratton Meadows Elementary School on Friday and Springs Rescue Mission on Saturday, where he helped fit and style grateful recipients with donated winter wear.
“It’s a pretty awesome feeling being able to spread warmth to someone and send the message that the world isn’t so awful; there are good people who are willing to help and step outside of their comfort zone and give what they have when they see a need they can fill,” said Crockett, who conceived the idea two years ago when he realized that, for the first time in his life, he had everything he needed.
“I can’t remember having that feeling before,” Crockett explained. “I grew up stricken with poverty my entire life. I understand that homelessness isn’t a matter of making bad decisions or not taking advantage of opportunities. It’s a matter of circumstance. You end up there because stuff happens, and a lot of the time, it’s out of your control.”
Crockett knows too well the struggles of being homeless. He lost his mother, Juanita, to a brain aneurism when he was 8 years old. He spent the remainder of his childhood and most of his teenage years in inner-city Cleveland, moving between makeshift homes with his drug- and alcohol-addicted father, who has since sobered.
In 2009, ESPN producer Lisa Fenn profiled Crockett, a standout high school wrestler who was born with a degenerative eye condition called Leber’s congenital amaurosis, and his friendship with teammate Leroy Sutton, a double amputee. Shortly after the piece aired, Crockett’s life changed forever. He was invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to explore Paralympic sport and, at 19, moved to the OTC to train, full-time, in judo. In 2012, Crockett earned a bronze medal at the Paralympic Games in London, giving him the platform he needed to pay his good fortune forward.
“I grew up all the time seeing need and wanting to fill it, whether it was for myself or someone else. That message has always resonated with me. I see a need, and I have to fill it,” he explained.
Crockett drew from his own experiences growing up in Cleveland as he looked for a way to give back to those in need most.
“Cleveland is one of the worst places for winter. It’s pretty cold if you’re not well equipped and don’t have a winter coat, gloves or warm socks. Colorado Springs winters can be pretty bad, as well. There are a lot of homeless downtown that you’ll see without coats or ones that are falling apart.”
True to form, Crockett saw a need and set out to fill it. In 2013, he enlisted the help of fellow athletes, United States Olympic Committee employees and neighboring organizations to gather winter clothing for those in the community who were without.
His annual coat drive was born.
“I just started collecting coats and scarves and anything that would help take the edge off in the winter,” Crockett explained.
Now, two years later, the 24-year-old judoka has donated over 600 coats and countless cold-weather accessories to local residents. He has even involved sponsor Nike, which pledged in-kind merchandise to this year’s drive.
“A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘I couldn’t do what you do. I don’t have much to give,’” Crockett said. “That’s wrong. You have so much to give. This whole drive – all these clothes – didn’t cost me a cent, just a little time and a lot of asking people to donate. That’s all it takes. It’s putting the time and effort into doing it.”
Crockett knows he couldn’t do this alone and enjoys inspiring people to action.
“It’s great seeing how many people come forth and just give and help out, especially people who volunteer their time to come up with me and hand out the [items]. It’s really great being a part of something that’s growing fast and making a difference in a lot of lives.”
Crockett hopes to continue to provide warmth and hope to those in need, as he pursues a degree in social work from Pikes Peak Community College.
As for the future of the coat drive, Crockett explained, “It’s something that I can see myself doing for a very long time, and I’m hoping that it continues to grow and expand.” He added, “[It’s] something that I just love doing.”