He's an Olympic champion, military hero, entrepreneur and philanthropist, and on Saturday, October 13, Mel Pender '76, '97 (Hon.), will add another title to his accomplishments: Adelphi Legend.
He’s an Olympic champion, military hero, entrepreneur and philanthropist, and on Saturday, October 13, Mel Pender ’76, ’97 (Hon.), will add another title to his accomplishments: Adelphi Legend.
Even before the evening of the Legends Dinner, Pender will be at Spirit Weekend to hand out awards to the winners of the weekend’s 5K race, a fitting role for a man who was part of an Olympic gold medal-winning relay team.
Gaining recognition and giving back are nothing new to Pender. He’s been doing both all his life.
Born in Georgia in 1937, Pender grew up in the segregated South and had dreams of joining the military. He joined the Army and served in the 82nd Airborne Division. While in the military, he began participating in athletics, where he displayed a talent for running.
The Army sent Pender to train for the Olympics, and he competed in the Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964. Afterward, he returned to the military, graduated from Officer Candidate School and was then deployed to Vietnam. While there, he was pulled to train for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
There, Pender made it to the 100-meter final and was part of the gold medal, world record-setting 4×100-meter relay team. Pender also set records in the 50-, 60- and 70-yard dashes.
Pender returned to Vietnam for a second tour and earned a Bronze Star. His next chapter was as the assistant/interim head track coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point, during which time he obtained his bachelor’s degree from Adelphi.
After retiring from the military, Pender opened an athletics store, designed the first track shoe for Mitre Sports International, and worked for the National Association of Home Builders as a Job Corps regional director and then as director of community affairs for the Atlanta Hawks.
He has also been active in his community. He constructed the first swimming pool for African Americans in his hometown of Lynwood Park, Georgia, coordinated several track and field clinics, coached a girls’ track team, organized youth development camps for the National Football League Players Association and was active with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the committee of Special Olympics Georgia.
In his memoir, Expression of Hope: The Mel Pender Story (Christian Faith Publishing, 2016), Pender writes, “What one person does, rightly, or wrongly, will have an impact on the lives of many, and working to achieve success is possible, regardless of your life situation. …The road being traveled can be disappointing at times, rugged at times, lonely, and challenging, but in order to succeed there should be no mention of the words ‘I quit!'”
Pender continues to speak and consult with his wife, the Rev. Debbie Pender, and has been inducted into several halls of fame.
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