By Doug Williams | Nov. 22, 2017, 11:03 a.m. (ET)
 

 

Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by milk life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.

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When Dartanyon Crockett was growing up in Cleveland, he didn’t have much. Yet even in trying circumstances Crockett learned lessons about kindness.

“I was always fairly generous with what I had, sort of family lessons I’d been taught,” he said. “Generosity.”

So when the two-time Paralympic judo medalist, now 26, realized his life was in a good place five years ago, he decided to find a way to help those less fortunate. The bronze medalist from the 2012 and 2016 Games, who is legally blind, knew that as a high-profile athlete, he could use his status and the connections he’d made to help others. So he started a drive that year to collect and distribute clothing.

The drive has been growing every year and is expected to be bigger than ever on Christmas Eve, when he and volunteers distribute the items at an event in conjunction with Springs Rescue Mission in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Though Crockett is intent on continuing to improve in judo and compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, his focus off the mat is on continuing the drive for warm clothes and expanding it to reach even more people.

“I was at a point in my life where I realized I was at a place of self-sufficiency that I thought, growing up, that I’d never be in,” said Crockett, who lives in Colorado Springs and trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. “I realized I had everything I needed, and being from Cleveland, which has really harsh winters, and knowing that Colorado has harsh winters sometimes as well, I decided there’s no reason I couldn’t find a need and fulfill that in any way I can.”

The first year he collected and distributed 117 articles of warm clothing — coats, socks, scarves, sweaters and hats, as well as blankets. The next year that number bumped up to 200. In the third year, 600. Last year, it was nearly 1,000. This year he hopes to distribute between 1,500 and 2,000 items.

Last year, one of his sponsors, Nike, made a large donation, and will match it again this year. Crockett has also received donated items from fellow athletes, United States Olympic Committee staff and the public. This will be the third year he partners with Springs Rescue Mission. He’s also distributed clothes to the students at Stratton Meadows Elementary School in Colorado Springs, which has many students from low-income homes.

“My main goal is to eventually start a website and expand it to a larger city such as Denver,” he said. “Just sort of spread it as far as I can.”

The fact he can now help others — after growing up in poverty — would have seemed impossible to him as a boy.

“It never dawned on me that something like that was possible,” he said.

He says the best day is when he and volunteers gather to put the clothing in the hands of the people who need it. It’s a day for making new friends and learning about people’s lives.

“It’s always great to be sharing stories,” Crockett said. “It doesn’t matter who the person is or where they come from; I believe everyone has a story and there’s always a reason that they’re in the position that they are.”

The other thing his status allows is to do public speaking. He says it’s a chance to share positive messages and talk about a variety of things, from the value of education to the importance of investing in employees.

This has been a down year for Crockett in terms of competition. He had surgery in April for a torn rotator cuff, labrum and shoulder capsule. He hopes to return to competition in January.

“It’s definitely been a long time since I’ve been on a mat and pushed myself,” he said.

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.