Dillard is one of Cleveland’s finest athletes. He served in the 92nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, the all-black Buffalo Soldiers, fighting in Italy. The Baldwin Wallace University graduate qualified for the Olympics, where he won four gold medals. He followed the example of his idol and fellow East Tech High School grad Jesse Owens. He is the only male to have won both the 100-meter dash and the high hurdles.
I could run, and as a little kid, 9 or 10 years old, I could beat kids who were 10, 11 or 12.
I could beat the older kids.
Naturally once you find something you have success at, you want to do it. It was fun, I enjoyed doing it.
I had gone to East Tech. The coach was Ivan Green, who’d been an assistant coach when Jesse Owens was a student there.
He got Owens and Dave Albritton, who won the silver medal in the high jump in those 1936 Olympic Games, to come back to East Tech High School to talk to his kids on the current track team.
We all got a chance to actually shake hands and ask questions. That was really big stuff.
A year or two later, we went to Columbus for the state track and field high school championships. Owens was back at Ohio State.
When our school team came into the stadium, I had on these track shoes. They were beat up and worn. So he looked at them, he kind of smiled and said, “I’ll be right back.”
Owens went back to the locker rooms and came back out with a brand-new pair of running shoes. It turned out he and I wore the same shoe size, 8. He gave me a brand-new pair of running shoes.
At the Olympic Games in 1948, Owens was there. After I won my race, back in the locker room he congratulated me and said words to the effect of I thought you could do it.
I remember vividly after I won that race, when I first got on the victory stand and faced the end of the stadium. Here I was a kid from Cleveland, from the same high school that Owens attended.
That flag’s going up, and they’re playing the anthem. And it’s because of something I did.
I had emulated something that my idol had done a dozen years before.
You can do it too. If I can do it, you can do it. Why should I be the one? If you’re willing to work hard enough, practice hard enough, long enough.
In keeping with everything that Owens had ever said. If you want it bad enough and work hard enough, good things will happen.
I spent 7 months in combat.
You learn discipline, that’s the biggest thing.
Try as hard as you can, as long as you can.