OTHELLO — Olympian Andrew Reyes was inspired by people in his life -- his mother, his aunt and his high school coach -- and he finds the opportunity to pay forward those gifts of encouragement and competitive spirit a positive experience.
"I talk to youth and young adults about staying in school, staying away from gang violence and trying to live a positive life," said Reyes, who gives speeches at schools across the nation.
Reyes zeroes in on dedication and discipline as integral factors to achieving one's goals, and that avoidance of negative influences is vital to staying on track.
"I've talked to kids to stay away from drugs, that there are other activities and role models that they can look up to to influence their life," he said.
When he's not on the road or standing at the the front of a classroom, Reyes walks his own talk by focusing on his own goals of athletic excellence by running at Tri-Cities area high school tracks, working out at Mendoza Fitness in Othello -- he is anticipating participating in the 2012 London Olympics -- or conducting fitness training seminars for individuals and groups who focus on speed and agility.
And it's safe to say he knows what he's talking about.
Reyes represented his native Liberia at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 4x100-meter relay in track and field. The team did not advance to the finals, but it did set a national record (39.77 seconds) for the small, west coast African nation.
Reyes moved to the Tri-Cities after spending several visits with his adoptive mother, Connie Reyes, who lives here.
"She moved here five years ago," Reyes said of his mother. "I had been coming here off and on to visit and decided to stay after visiting the Tri-Cities for a while."
Reyes was born in Gibi, Liberia in 1974, the youngest of 18 children and the second of only two boys. His mother passed away during his childbirth and he was adopted a week later by Connie Reyes, who was in Liberia at the time as part of a Pentecostal mission based out of Louisville, Ky.
Reyes attended Red Mountain High in Mesa, Ariz., where his aptitude at soccer led to an invitation to run track.
"While I was playing soccer, people saw that I was pretty fast," he said. "They asked me 'Do you know how to play any other sports? Why don't you come out and run?'"
Reyes, who also attended Abilene (Texas) Christian University, credits his high school coach and his family for providing encouragement during the years leading up to his Olympic experience.
"Prior to the Olympics, I credit my mother, Connie," he said. "She's been there a lot for me since Day One. Credit my grandmother, who passed away two years ago, Constance Reyes, my adopted mom's mother. My aunt, from Arizona, Dolores Young. She definitely kept me in line in high school. Those are some of the few that kept me in line and dedicated prior to the Olympics."
And during the Olympics, athletes realized they were part of something which challenged them to expand their definition of family to include individuals from every corner of the planet who have been dreaming a similar dream of Olympic perfection.
"After the Olympics, I have quite a few friends and family," said Reyes, who enjoyed his Olympic experience.
"(The Olympic Village) was like a big city, all in one place," he said. "They had everything in there. A movie theater, an arcade where I played video games, and I don't usually play video games. Any medical attention you need, they take care of all that for you. Everything was open 24 hours."
The variety of food -- from a simple cafeteria to McDonald's -- was also a perk.
"It was my first time eating a lamb chop. I picked it because it looked like pork chops, but smaller. I said, 'This does not taste like pork chops'," Reyes said, demonstrating the downside of too much variety.
Enjoying the local flavor and customs of Australia was a given for the average Olympian, but the reality of Reyes' achievement didn't strike home until the day he took his mark for the relay.
"I actually didn't realize I was there until I was on the track to compete. I looked up in the stands and said, 'Wow, this is amazing.'"