An Olympic Legend
Dr. Mel Pender began his military career in 1955 at the age of 17 as an enlisted man in the US Army. After serving 11 years, he attended Officers Candidate School where he was commissioned as an officer. He served in the 9th Division during his first tour in Vietnam and with his second tour he was with the 82nd Airborne Division and as a special envoy for Ambassador Colby. Captain Pender’s final assignment was 7 years at West Point Military Academy where he served as West Point’s first African American track coach completing his 21 year career in 1976.
It was at the age of 25, while playing on the Army football team in Okinawa Japan with the 82nd Airborne Division where he discovered his natural talent for track and field as a sprinter. His career in sports as a world class athlete would flourish while still maintaining his position in the military. In 1964 at the age of 27 he competed in his first Olympics in Tokyo Japan. It was here that Dr. Pender was injured but still managed to place 6th in the 100 meter event. While on his first tour in Vietnam, he was pulled out by the Army Sports Branch to train and compete in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. It was there at the age of 31 that he would win his gold medal in the 4x100 meter relay. Dr. Pender went on to run professionally for the International Track Association and continues to hold the World record in the 50, 60 and 70 yard dash.
Upon retiring from the military he began his civilian career as a business owner, motivational speak for the DEA and FBI, and developing the first track shoe for Mitre Sports. He worked for the National Home Builders Association for 10 years as a Job Core regional director and then for the Atlanta Hawks as director of community affairs and president of the Atlanta Hawks Foundation until retirement in 1996.
Dr. Pender has served on numerous boards during his career and has coordinated several track and field clinics including one of Georgia’s largest Youth Games Track and Field Invitational. Dr. Pender is in 11 Hall of Fames and continues to support charity golf events as a celebrity golfer.