Lantz Lamback’s Paralympic gold medal has been admired by everyone from fans in London to President Obama in Washington.
On Thursday, it made its way to students at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School, who heard about his journey from home-schooled child growing up beyond the paper mills in south Augusta to Paralympic athlete.
“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but if you want it bad, you can do it,” he told the students as he sat on the auditorium stage.
Born with cerebral palsy, Lamback, 26, has been active since he was a child. He grew up swimming and playing baseball, but as he got older, he realized swimming was a better sport for his body – and one in which he excelled.
He competed in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, the 2008 games in Beijing and most recently the 2012 event in London, collecting eight medals, including two golds.
Leading up to the London games, Lamback spent three years training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he pushed his body to limits he didn’t think possible.
“The stress you put on your body is just so high,” he said.
In the audience, Sandra Tolbert, 12, got some ideas for an Olympic dream of her own.
She has hopes of competing in the 800-meter dash in the 2016 Olympics and breaking sprint records set by Wilma Rudolph, who was considered one of the fastest women in the world.
“He made me think about what I want to do,” Sandra said. “Most people would have stopped, but he kept going. I guess he had something inside of him.”
Students asked Lamback about his experience traveling, how he trains and which athletes he has met. One of the biggest impacts the games have had on Lamback was showing him how differently the U.S. treats athletes with special needs compared with other countries.
He said countries such as Russia, England and Australia televise all the Paralympic Games with the same focus as the Olympic Games weeks earlier. In the U.S., Lamback said, athletes with disabilities are often ignored.
“It’s night and day how the countries treat the athletes,” he said. “It’s sad. TV covers all day, every day over there. Other countries know who their athletes are. But I can walk through the halls at (Augusta State University) and be a ghost.”
Taking a break from competing, Lamback is enrolled at ASU and plans to focus on finishing his education, which was interrupted by his intense training schedule.
His hasn’t picked his major, but he knows he wants to do something that he can wake up every day and still love.
Benjamin Hayes, 15, said that passion is what made the biggest impact on him.
“Even with his condition, he’s done amazing things,” he said. “That’s really cool.”