Bruce Jenner - The greatest athlete

Bruce JennerGold Medallist Bruce Jenner interviewed by Chet Cooper

At forty-something, Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic Gold Medal Decathlon champion still has the right stuff. Tall, fit, handsome, with boyish charm and exuberant energy, Bruce Jenner is a generous spirit. He is eager to share his story of becoming a champion in the face of obstacles, and earning continuing success in so many areas of his life, including his multimillion dollar business ventures, and the relationships he holds so dear - his marriage to wife Kris and his 10 children. ABILITY's Chet Cooper met with Bruce Jenner one morning at the Jenner home in Hidden Hills, California. The sunlit sitting room where the interview was held only accentuated Jenner's warmth, optimism, humor, and gracious down-to-earth manner. As he recounts the days of his pre-Olympic training, Olympic victory in 1976, and the challenges of a career and life post-athlete, one is struck by the timeless vitality of Jenner's enthusiasm. Surely, in the presence of Jenner, one feels the potent energy of a true Olympian...still.

Today, it is hard to imagine Jenner anywhere but at the top of the hurdle, but Jenner describes his beginnings as absolutely ordinary. Jenner was the second of four children with two sisters and a brother. His Mother, Esther Jenner, was an "all-American mom and housewife." His Father, Bill Jenner, having served in World War II became a Tree Surgeon. The family grew up in middle class areas of the suburbs of New York and of Connecticut. The family moved frequently, about every five years.

Jenner's roots did evidence athletic ability. Jenner's Father Bill competed in the U.S. Army Olympics in Nuremberg, Germany in 1945, winning a silver medal in the 100-yard dash. Jenner's grandfather had run in the Boston Marathon for many years. Of his own perhaps budding athletic abilities, Jenner said: "By the time I turned two, I'd already developed a big chest, wide shoulders and boundless energy, prompting my dad to nickname me Bruiser. Trying to curb my wanderlust, my parents fenced in their yard..." Bruce Jenner, Finding the Champion Within.

However, Jenner had a significant childhood struggle to overcome. He was dyslexic. As is common for school-age dyslexic children, Jenner feared school, teachers, and reading. His behavior in the classroom was mislabeled by teachers and he would often daydream in class. Jenner described the school experience from Kindergarten through 6th grade as torturous. When glasses were suggested, Jenner's eyesight was tested at 20/20. Finally a school doctor recognized that he was dyslexic.

Today, dyslexia is a condition doctors, teachers, parents, and the public at large know more about. However, Jenner cautions that dyslexia is still misunderstood. Most dyslexics are intelligent, creative people who have what he describes as a "short circuit" in processing reading, writing, spelling, and expression. Jenner describes a common misunderstanding that dyslexics see backwards, and says that is not so. The International Dyslexia Association describes what occurs in dyslexia:"Dyslexia results from a difference in the structure and function of the brain...problems in language processing distinguish them as a group. That means that the dyslexic has problems translating language to thought (as in listening or reading) or thought to language (as in writing or speaking)." [The International Dyslexia Association, International Office, 8600 LaSalle Road, Chester Building, Suite 382, Baltimore, MD 21286-2044 USA; (410) 296-0232]. Today, the National Institute of Health estimates that about 15% of the population has a learning disability. Dyslexia, one learning disability, occurs among all people regardless of age, race, or income. It can run in families. Despite advances in the understanding of dyslexia, some children still "fall through the cracks" as they are never properly diagnosed or treated.

Young children with dyslexia have special needs in the classroom as they learn differently from their peers. The International Dyslexia Association recommends early intervention by a specially trained teacher or therapist. The Learning Disabilities Association of California advocates a multisensory approach to learning for children with a learning disability. [The Learning Disabilities Association of California, 655 Lewelling Blvd., #355, San Leandro, CA 94579; (916) 725-7881. Also for more information see: Basic Facts About Dyslexia: What Everyone Ought to Know by Angela Wilkins, Alice Garside, and Mary Lee Enfield, Ph.D., available through the International Dyslexia Association, above].

Bruce Jenner was lucky. The educational system finally recognized his dyslexia. However, school became tolerable for him only when his natural athletic ability was clearly demonstrated before his teacher and peers. It was then that the accolades that always seemed to go out to the other kids were now being handed to Jenner. The reward for Jenner was greater self- esteem. Today, he attributes his success to the hard work and determination he learned as a small child with dyslexia who worried about being able to do anything right. As a dyslexic who has excelled, Jenner is in good company. Well-known dyslexics include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Tom Cruise and Cher.

A list of Jenner's accomplishments to date even after the 1976 Olympics is long. The areas of his achievements are varied and business based. From being featured on the front of Wheaties cereal boxes to sports commentating, acting, and working as a television personality ("Good Morning America," "Murder She Wrote," "CHiP's," "Healthy Lifestyles"), Jenner has gone on to running his own film production company. Jenner's entrepreneurial ventures include organizing and delivering motivational speeches to corporate groups. He is sought after by such corporations as Coca Cola, VISA, Anheuser Busch, MCI, Toyota, Kawaski, Holiday Inn, and IBM. The current businesses Jenner has a hand in are diverse, from telecommunications to health food, to everything in-between. While Jenner's speed throttle has been on full and moving forward in the business world, Jenner has found time to lend a hand in charitable and nonprofit organizations as the Special Olympics, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and the California Governor's Council of Physical Fitness.

Jenner is active in dyslexia foundations and shares concern for children who grow up with dyslexia. And, (try to fit this into your schedule) Jenner, a devoted husband and father (did we mention the Father of the Year award?), also has time to write books. His latest book, Finding the Champion Within (Simon & Schuster, 1996) is an invigorating summoning and directing of the forces within all of us to be champions, no matter what the playing field. Jenner takes the reader step by step through his decathlon training leading to his victorious Olympic gold medal in 1976...the decathlon victory being a larger metaphor for all our dreams and goals in life. Jenner offers his own tried and true methods to buckle down and make what matters most in one's life come to fruition. The advice is solid and clear and the book is laced with hundreds of quotes and stores both biographical and anecdotal, which will make the reader want to jump out the starting blocks with a winner's determination.

History books will write of Jenner as a great athlete, but we need also remember a great man with such warmth and good energy to share. Yet our hero remains humble. When asked how he would like to be remembered, Jenner states he would like to be remembered as a good parent. Meeting Bruce Jenner was a pleasure. In the wake of Jenner's presence, one may find inspiration nudging, beckoning him to reach for his highest dreams, and seize the day with vigor! But the pace Jenner keeps is hard to follow. As Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times observed, "His battle cry once was "Go Bruce, Go! Obviously, nobody told him to slow down." ("Can't Stop The Music", Los Angeles Times, 7 July 1996, Sports, Part C, p. 1.)


CC: Wow! These are great pictures. [Viewing pictures on wall of Bruce with various celebrities and on several covers of magazines.] You're very accomplished and you having a learning disability.

BJ: I know I've been very fortunate. (laughs)

CC: When did you find out you had dyslexia?

BJ: I was growing up in the 50's and 60's. Back then they didn't even know what dyslexia was. I probably went all the way to junior high school before a school doctor told me that I was "dyslexic." My reaction was, do you mean I'm going to die from this? Was I a bad boy? He said, no you'll be fine, go back to class. That was about the extent of it.

CC: What was it like as a child with dyslexia?

BJ: It caused more problems as a young kid, because the simple process of perceiving words on a piece of paper was hard for me. Many people think dyslexic people see things backwards. They don't see things backwards.

CC: Yes, I've heard that before.

BJ: If you are dyslexic, your eyes work fine, your brain works fine, but there is a little short circuit in the wire that goes between the eye and the brain. Reading is not a fluid process. What happens is that you will start reading across a piece of paper and you can make out the first couple of words. The eye is working, the brain is working, but somewhere along the line that system breaks down some, so as you are reading along there will come a word that doesn't come up off the piece of paper and register like it should, but you are forced to read on. So you go to the next word, because your eye is continuing to move. When the time comes for your brain to process the information, the second word comes up faster than the first one. So when it's in your head, all of a sudden, it comes out backwards and you think of the word backwards. The truth is everybody does it from time to time. People dial telephone numbers and they get a wrong number only to find that they've read the last two digits backwards. Everybody does it, but dyslexics have this tendency to a higher degree. Dyslexia also varies in how severe it is. Some dyslexics make fewer mistakes. There are some dyslexics though that are at the point where they cannot even read words as they are driving down the highway. Dyslexia can get that bad. Mine isn't that bad, but it can be that bad. It can be a very big problem.

CC: What kind of problems did you have?

BJ: The biggest problem with dyslexic kids is not the perceptual problem, it is their perception of themselves. That was my biggest problem. I thought everybody else was doing much better than I was. I'd look around to my peers, and everyone else could do this simple process of reading, but for me it wasn't working. If you are a kid, reading is really important stuff. My biggest fear was going to school. I was afraid the teacher was going to make me read in front of class, and I was going to look bad. I didn't only have a perceptual problem, I was also so nervous and so upset. The process just didn't work. I lost enthusiasm for school and I flunked second grade. The teachers said I was lazy.

"In the fifth grade I discovered something I could do better than the other kids. One day the teacher set me up a bunch of chairs, and she had every one run to the chairs and back while she timed us. I had the fastest time in the whole school!."

CC: You flunked the second grade? Wow that's rough. Did things turn around for you?

BJ: In the fifth grade I discovered something I could do better than the other kids. One day the teacher set up a bunch of chairs, and she had everyone run to the chairs and back while she timed us. I had the fastest time in the whole school! That was the first time I had ever really accomplished anything in school. Everyone was patting me on the back saying, good job Bruce! I liked the pat on the back. So all of a sudden sports became very intriguing to me. It became important especially later on when I was a little older. I would show up on the football field and challenge a guy who was a good student, good reader, and BOOM! I'd clean his clock! I said, boy, I like this, this is fun! I could do it better than most of the other kids in school. So for me sports became my little niche in life.

CC: That was your hidden talent.


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Habitat and ABILITY Homes

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