Olympic gold medalist to foster youth: ‘Know your worth’
A Georgia sales executive knows the elation of American athletes who recently returned from the 2016 Rio Olympics with a record 121 medals.
Darold Williamson, now a 33-year-old father of three young daughters, anchored Team USA’s 4 x 400-meter relay team to the medal podium in the 2004 Athens Olympics, following a successful high school and college running career.
His journey to Olympic gold didn’t start out with a clear track.
Darold and his two brothers were placed in foster care in San Antonio, Texas, as young boys. Then, working with the Casey Family Programs’ field office there, the boys’ grandmother became their licensed foster parent when Darold was 6 or 7.
“We just went to an office building in Texas, and they made it feasible for my grandmother to care for us comfortably,” he recalls.
Darold, who says he was a fast kid even in grade school P.E. class, started running competitively at Holmes High School in San Antonio, encouraged by football coaches who suggested he try track for the spring months.
That led to state titles in the 200- and 400-meter races his senior year in 2001 — an accomplishment proudly noted in a story about him on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ website.
After graduation, Darold attended Baylor College, where he won four NCAA track titles, 13 All-American honors and 13 Big 12 Conference championships with his team and individually. Then came Olympic gold, followed by an endorsement with Nike and a professional running career, including gold medals at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, running the third leg of the 4 x 400-meter relay.
After his first daughter, Dior, was born in 2009, Darold decided to return to Baylor and finish his undergraduate work, earning a bachelor’s degree in education in 2011. To be closer to his wife’s family, they settled in Georgia, where he works as a senior account executive at CareerBuilder.
To other foster youth, Darold would offer this advice:
“Know your value and know your worth in spite of your circumstances. Be appreciative of the people that you do have in your life that do love you and do help you out.” He adds: “Don’t be ashamed, but be proud. Be proud that even though you may have gone through something or are going through something, you have the opportunity to make more out of that situation than a lot of people expect.”
Darold says it took some maturing for him to fully appreciate his own advice.
“When I was young I used to be embarrassed about it, being a foster child. But as I got older, in college … I guess it just took some growing up and realizing the circumstances you’re in, they’re not your fault.”
He’s now in contact with his biological mother as well as his three sisters. “I forgave both of my parents a long, long time ago. Because I would not change my life for the world,” he says. “Everything I went through made me the man I am.”
He and his wife, LaJuana Williamson, are expecting their fourth child in — he’s not holding his breath for a boy after three girls, he says with a laugh.
Darold’s athletic career led to his induction into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame this year, joining NBA great Shaquille O’Neal as a fellow honoree.
He continues to work out at the gym, although he’s replaced running with chasing his children around the house. “You can’t be an athlete in your life and let it all go,” he jokes.
Darold’s next chapter is to finish writing a memoir, which he expects to do this year. “It’s about my road, my challenges,” he says.