Racing toward the finish line of the 400-meter hurdles in the 1968 Olympics, David Hemery had never been more scared. He had trained for four years in all kinds of weather with BU coach Billy Smith (’55,’58). “Out there is the road to Mexico,” Smith had said, bucking him up during a Boston snowstorm. It all came down to one race of under 50 seconds in Mexico City.
Hemery (Questrom’68, SED’88) nabbed gold—and the world record—that day, and went on to win other athletic competitions in the 1970s and ’80s. He’s since dedicated his life to helping others reach their potential. He studied achievement and education at SED, coached BU track, and ran businesses that taught leadership skills to business executives. In 2005, he founded 21st Century Legacy, a charity that brings Olympians and Paralympians into schools to inspire young people and help them develop detailed plans to attain their goals. The organization has served more than 215,000 students in the United Kingdom.
David Hemery (Questrom’68, SED’88) holds an Olympic gold medal for the 400-meter hurdles in 1968, a bronze for the same race in 1972, and a silver for the 4 x 400-meter relay in 1972.
“When they realize they can actually take more responsibility for their lives, their own vision of what they might achieve goes up,” says Hemery, the charity’s codirector and a native of the UK. (His father’s work as an accountant brought the family to the United States in his youth.)
Hemery, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and life vice president of the British Olympic Association, hasn’t stopped pushing himself. In 2015, he says, he raised roughly $120,000 for 21st Century Legacy by participating in the London Marathon. And he still runs, near his home on the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire, sometimes accompanied by his wife in a horse-drawn carriage. When he’s out of breath, he hops on the back of the vehicle. But before long, he’s running again.