Have you ever wondered what it takes to reach the top? Ask a Jersey girl and four-time Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs. Newark’s own was also captain of Team USA and had a legendary 24-year elite career as a half-mile distance runner, setting world records and smashing American ones. She was ranked in the top 10 athletes in the world for nearly a decade and was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Hall of Fame. She spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: We learn as little girls never to take no for an answer when it comes to achieving our dreams, but that is easier said that done, isn’t it?
Clark Diggs: It was, especially when I grew up in the ’60s being out there as a woman trying to find her way. But I learned to turn those no’s into slow yes’s and so my parents always said that. So as a kid people say that you can’t do that, you can’t do that and I always say give me a slow yes instead of a fast no.
Williams: You had a famous father, the famous principal Joe Clark who Morgan Freeman played in the Movie “Lean On Me”. Did having a famous parent make you feel as though you had an obligation to achieve fame yourself?
Clark Diggs: Well, my father didn’t become famous until I was in college so he was just dad and mom. I had two tough, stern, loving parents and so we weren’t going to fail them. Whatever they said to do we pretty much did. We didn’t talk back then and so it was a different time.
Williams: And your brother was your coach?
Clark Diggs: My brother coached me as an adult, so I was the older sister, the younger brother and I have another sister who made the Olympic team who is 15 years younger. And I always told him to cheer for me because I stuck up for him when he was a little kid.
Williams: Now you say in your book that you always wanted to be famous since you were a little girl, but you looked at magazine covers and nobody was looking like you.
Clark Diggs: That was kind of troubling because I didn’t have a role model as a model to look at, but I figured I could be a model but they had to figure out the look that I had was a look that people wanted to see. So I didn’t become a model until I was 32 and it was a perfect time for me, because I think had I become a model when I was 16 and 17, my head would have been so big I couldn’t handle the fame. I think that when I see people of different colors, different with looks and the most important thing is that you realize that you respect people for what they are as individuals, individually and what they’re doing.
Williams: When you got to the University of Tennessee you walked into — and this is unusual today — you walked into an athletic department that was run by women.
Clark Diggs: That was awesome to see the athletic director being a woman, Patty Summit, was a basketball coach. Terry Crawford was my coach. The sports information director was a women so we saw women in charge, women winning and for me. That led the platform for me going into the industry.
Williams: It compressed the stories and you make it sound so easy and it wasn’t. You had two failed attempts to make the Olympic team. What did failure teach you that success can’t?
Clark Diggs: Failure taught me that you only fail if you don’t get back out and try again, so I got back up and tried again and I tweaked what I was doing. So I think people fail because they get back out there and they do the same thing again. You can’t do the same thing and expect a different result.
Williams: You had a sports agent who wouldn’t submit your name to be on a meet so you fired him.
Clark Diggs: Yes I did.
Williams: And did it yourself.
Clark Diggs: Did it myself.
Williams: And then you had a chance to be in a Nike spot, or the Nike spokesperson and your agent said you wouldn’t submit you so you fired him.
Clark Diggs: And did it myself.
Williams: What gives you that? What is inside you that is inside everybody?
Clark Diggs: I think we all are champions and you have to define that champion. You have to develop that champion and I think that we have the eagles and we have the chickens. But champions are built in between the chicken and the eagle. So I wanted to develop my champion and between that stage and hopefully one day I’ll be an eagle and soar.
Williams: Well you are an eagle, but you run sports programs for little chickens.
Clark Diggs: I do. I do. My little chickens, I love them. For 16 years we’ve run a track and field camp. I’m doing one in Somerville, New Jersey sponsored by my foundation and Johnson & Johnson and it’s a week camp and I’m there every day with my kids and it brings me so much joy seeing the different groups of kids get together.
Williams: This book is called “‘P’ Principals of Success”. What are you principles of success?
Clark Diggs: Well, the first principle is the P’s, so we have to have a purpose, prepare, you’re patient, you get perturbed and you persevere. And you do that in life, and you do that in sports and then that’s when you really know that you’re a champion.
Williams: What’s the hardest thing that you’ve ever had to do?
Clark Diggs: The hardest thing. Probably in sports the hardest thing to do was to say goodbye to the sport. I think that I still wanted to hang in there and travel and be with my friends but the time had come. So saying goodbye to something that I had been a part of for 25 years, that was hard. But the good thing about it was that I did the best I could when I was competing. So it was hard to say goodbye, but I can say goodbye and didn’t have to say, “Well if I had one more time, one more chance, I could do that differently.” I laid it out there on the line at all times.
Williams: How do you do, do you find that the team camaraderie that you had in sports, you find another team in another industry, or another chapter of your life?
Clark Diggs: No, those are my core women. There’s still there with me and we have just all grown up and developed and now that I’m in business I still have those, my core girls, because they keep us real, keep us honest, “Joetta you may think you’re this but let me tell you I remember when…” So you need those humbling experiences to transfer into the business world. I did that as well.