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Lewis visiting Valley Isle for Best Buddies

Carl Lewis, shown Friday at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, is part of the board of directors for Best Buddies — a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with intellectual and development disabilities. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo

WAILEA — Carl Lewis will be watching what he eats today.

The nine-time Olympic gold medalist is on Maui for “Life is Sweet,” a fundraiser for Best Buddies Hawaii scheduled for 2-5 p.m. at The Shops at Wailea. He will be a judge for a dessert contest with entries from six Maui chefs.

“It is fun. Of course, I’m going to watch the amounts,” said Lewis, who at 55 years old weighs 192 pounds, just seven more than when he won two medals in the 1996 Atlanta Games, his fourth Olympics.

Lewis attended his first event for Best Buddies — a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with intellectual and development disabilities — in 1989. He joined the board of directors in 1994.

Lewis is also an assistant track and field coach at the University of Houston, his alma mater, and said he does “four or five” events similar to this one per year.

“I’m just excited that I’m able to be here and lend my name and hopefully inspire people to not only come to the event tomorrow, but get involved and become a part of Best Buddies,” he said.

Lewis burst onto the track and field scene in 1980 when he qualified for the Olympic team in the long jump and 400-meter relay after his freshman year at Houston.

The U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics, but he went on to win four Olympic titles in the long jump and two in the 100-meter dash. In addition to his 10 Olympic medals, he also won 10 world championship medals, eight of them gold.

Lewis learned to lend a hand to less fortunate people when he was young, from his parents, who were both coaches and teachers.

“The Buddies, they get excited about just people that want to be in their lives,” he said. “That’s the special thing about it, because it is about friendship. We also get a lot from them because they’re honest, they’re special and they’re sweet. I learn a lot from the Buddies that I meet.”

Today’s event will also have live music, a silent auction and wine tasting.

“It’s awesome to have Carl,” said Sarah Man, the state director for Best Buddies. “He’s been with Best Buddies for an awful long time. He’s a global ambassador and he’s really helpful about giving back to the community, especially to Best Buddies.”

Lewis says the Best Buddies program takes on more meaning in the wake of last week’s presidential election, won by Donald Trump.

“That’s what’s kind of frightening because those are the programs that get funding cut,” Lewis said. “They talk the talk all the time, but that’s where they cut the funding there first, for people with intellectual disabilities, children’s programs, after-school programs. All these things that we depend on with Best Buddies to make sure that they have the opportunity to have a full life.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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