Excerpted from Go to Your Destiny,
Alvin and Calvin Harrison. Published
Hyperion, New York. Used by permission.
Twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison were born prematurely to a 16-year-old mother in Orlando, Florida. By the time they themselves were teenagers, they were living on their own in Salinas, California. Although track stars in their high school years, the boys eked out a precarious existence, often hoping simply for a "warm blanket and a hot bowl of soup." By 1995, they were living in a car parked on top of a hill in rural California, praying for a way out of their predicament.
Who could have guessed that just a few years later, both brothers would be Olympic athletes --- and that millions would watch one brother passing the baton to his twin in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games?
There was a hill a few miles up the road from Marie's house. We decided to park the car there. We sat across the street from a small ranch house that had cows behind it in a field. To our right was a dried up creek bed lined with pine trees and weeds. We chose that spot because hardly anyone drove through that area. We had some blankets and we flipped a coin. Alvin would get the backseat. I would sleep in the front. No big deal, we thought. One or two nights in the car was nothing we hadn't done before. We could handle a couple of days in the car. No problem. At first, it was even kind of fun.
The first night was easy. By the third night it had started to become old. By the end of the first week we didn't know if the situation would ever improve. That's when reality started to set in. Pretty soon three weeks had gone by and we were still sleeping in that Mustang every night. Every morning I looked up at the sky and asked God, "How much longer?"
I was praying someone would come along and literally take me out of the situation. I prayed and prayed but I was looking for a miracle. I finally realized that the answer was right in front of me. This mysterious secret to life we are all trying to find begins with the individual. You can gain insight from prayer and studying the Bible, but it was up to me and Alvin to do something with that information.
We had to face reality if we were going to get anywhere and that's what reading the Bible helped us to do. Calvin and I read the entire Bible sitting in that car. I had a little green one and Calvin's was red. They were small pocket-sized versions, but we read every page at least once.
Looking through the newspaper one day, I found an ad for a painting job.... it wasn't until I started painting that everything became clear. I realized I was able-bodied. I had arms, legs, feet. I was strong. I was young. It's like I finally understood the answer to all our problems and it all boiled down to us. We had to create our destiny. No one was going to hand it to us. We had to go out and use everything we had been given to make our life happen. Otherwise, we were going to end up on the street or in that car.
There was a story I remember reading in the Bible that helped me understand what we were supposed to do. The Lord gives three guys a number of talents. They are sent out into the world to see what they can do. When they return, the Lord asks the first man what he has done. The man responds that he used his talents to improve and increase what he had been given. The Lord is pleased and gives the man five more talents. The second man says the same thing and the Lord gives him three more talents.
I went to see Gary Shaw, who had been our track coach at Hartnell Community College. Coach Shaw listened to me talk and then said, "Alvin, if you are serious, I want to coach you."
Alvin and Calvin found jobs in the community; they'd work all day and then begin training in the evening. One year later, in 1996, Alvin was on the U.S. Team in the Atlanta Olympic Games; in 2000, both brothers represented their country in track and field at the Sydney Games. Alvin came home with a silver medal for winning the 400 meters. Then, it was time to see if Calvin's dream could come true as well. The brothers, along with teammates Michael Johnson and Antonio Pettigrew, awaited their turn to compete for the gold in the 4 x 400 meter relay.
Walking into that stadium in Sydney for the first time was magnificent. That stadium was stunning. Every aspect of that place was beautiful.
There were more than 120,000 people there for the opening ceremony. I stood on the track trying to absorb everything I saw. I remember thinking that I never wanted to forget that moment.
The relay was what I was waiting for. You could feel the crowd starting to rise as Calvin approached me with the baton. He got about 50 meters from me and the roar started. They probably knew some of what we'd been through in our lives.
What they definitely knew was that there were two brothers in the Olympic Games, one handing the stick to the other. As soon as he gave me that baton, the crowd just lit up.
It was like a dream come true. I had thought about that moment since 1996, when I saw LaMont Smith hand the stick to Alvin in the finals.
As soon as I received the baton from Calvin I could feel this electrifying energy pass between us. That was the height of my experience in the Olympic Games. I look at that moment as our greatest achievement.
And so, Alvin and Calvin won the gold the same way they'd lived their whole lives--together.