Carl Lewis: the Champion Inner Runner

The Sri Chinmoy Centre has been my life, my journey and my home for many, many years. I hope these pages offer a small glimpse into the joy, the grace and the wonder that is Sri Chinmoy.

Sri Chinmoy’s book about Carl Lewis

A review by Animesh Harrington

Carl Lewis with Sri Chinmoy
Carl Lewis with Sri Chinmoy in New York, 1991

CARL LEWIS: the Champion Inner Runner, by Sri Chinmoy, is unique in the field of sports literature. Far from being a conventional biography or a typical interview, this book sits comfortably in a genre of its own as it explores a new philosophical perspective of sport and the inner forces that have moulded a champion athlete.

I must state at the outset, that this is not a book everyone will easily appreciate, though it is, I believe, a book that many would benefit from reading. For those who see the world only in terms of physical forces and athletics as a competition where the greatest physical force wins, this book will seem challenging. For those who cherish the ideal that faith can move mountains, then this book is for you.

In August 1991, at the World Championships in Tokyo, Carl Lewis became the fastest human being in history, covering 100 metres in 9.86 seconds. He stands at the pinnacle of athletic achievement, yet he will be the first to say that he has not done it alone. After the competition, he sent his world-record shoes, inscribed with a message, to Sri Chinmoy in New York. It was a measure of his heart’s gratitude and respect for the person whom he has come to regard as his spiritual teacher.

Carl Lewis and Sri Chinmoy were brought together in 1983 by a mutual friend, Narada Michael Walden. Narada, the multi-Grammy Award winning producer/songwriter had practised meditation under Sri Chinmoy’s guidance for many years. His way of life prompted the Olympic champion to find out more about Sri Chinmoy and his teachings.

The main content of this 270-page book is the collection of talks the author has had with Carl Lewis from their initial meeting through to the end of 1991. The anecdotes, questions and answers reveal a side to the Olympic champion that the popular press could never capture. Also, more than 300 photographs give the book the feel of an intimate family album.

Sri Chinmoy spent his early life in India. In conjunction with spiritual disciplines, he regularly participated in sport. He was a decathlon and sprint champion for many years and recorded a 100-metre best of 11.70 seconds. His interest in athletics has never waned. Even today, at the age of 60, he is determined to break his old records.

The relationship that has developed over the years between Sri Chinmoy and Carl Lewis is not easy to categorise. One is reminded of Percy Cerutty and Herb Elliott, or Nakamura and Seko: the mentor and the athlete. There is no doubt that Sri Chinmoy provides tremendous spiritual inspiration for Carl Lewis — before the 200-metre finals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and at other important times the two have meditated together — and born out of this inspiration is the manifestation of Lewis’ impossible feats. But there is more to the relationship than the pursuit of athletic goals.

Throughout the book, there is a recurring theme that Sri Chinmoy emphasises. It has to do with the making of the inner man: “There is an outer consciousness and an inner consciousness,” Sri Chinmoy tells Carl Lewis.

“In the outer consciousness you have already done something extremely great for mankind. You have established something immortal, and millions of people are being inspired by the results... But there is also a Carl Lewis the inner man. And there is also an inner consciousness, which we call the heart’s love for mankind and the heart’s cry for the improvement of the world.

“There are people on earth who will take many, many years to bring to the fore their inner man. In your case, it took only a few fleeting hours to bring to the fore your inner man. While you were meditating with me, right from the very beginning your inner man came to the fore. At that time you were no longer Carl Lewis, the greatest athlete, the champion athlete of the world; you were something else — something infinitely more beautiful and infinitely more powerful than this. You had become the supreme hero-warrior to fight against humanity's ignorance. You became what your outer life at times consciously, at times unconsciously, has always been searching for: the unparalleled sacrificer of Immortality's Nectar-Delight.” (Sri Chinmoy gave Carl Lewis the spiritual name ‘Sudhahota’. Its literal meaning is: the unparalleled sacrificer of Immortality’s Nectar-Delight.)

As Carl Lewis becomes Sudhahota so his relationship with Sri Chinmoy becomes increasingly multifaceted. He is seen playing music and singing, playing tennis with Sri Chinmoy and performing plays Sri Chinmoy has written. He also takes a very personal interest in his spiritual teacher’s own sprint training.

The advice he gives Sri Chinmoy on sprinting and also his comments on the long jump take the reader right up to date with the latest athletic theories. If anyone can speak with authority about athletics and getting the best out of yourself, it is Carl Lewis.

But who is coaching whom, you may ask?

At times Carl Lewis will offer his illumining comments to Sri Chinmoy:

“In sprinting you want to have your centre of gravity over your feet. The thing that you want to do is to stand flat and straight, then rise on your toes, send your hips forward and just run off. That’s the idea you want. You want to get your hips over your feet. You do that by shooting them in. Then, of course, your upper body will just follow. You want your hands to swing up to your face in front and then your arm to go back just a little bit. Those are the mechanical concepts of sprinting, the easiest things.”

At other times Sri Chinmoy gives incisive, practical advice to his student:

“When you start the long jump, please try to run for the full length; do not shorten the distance. It is absolutely important to have your proper distance.

“Another thing: when you are about to start, try to feel that you are representing not only America but all of earth... feel that the whole earth in a thunderous voice is repeating your name: ‘Carl Lewis, Carl Lewis, Carl Lewis’. Then when you approach the board and jump, feel that the whole earth — all of humanity — is standing up. You do not have to see whether you have covered 9, 10 or 11 metres. Only feel that millions of human beings are standing up to honour you because you have broken Beamon’s record and brought Supreme glory to earth.”

Carl Lewis: the Champion Inner Runner is indeed an inspired book. The beneficiary of all this inspiration and wisdom though, is clearly the reader.

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