July 16, 2006 — -- Ten years ago, she soared to a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Now she's traded the public spotlight for public service, fighting a recent surge in juvenile crime from the Department of Justice here in Washington.
Kerri Strug: We do prevention- and intervention-type programs. We reach out to the states and communities in helping our high-risk youth.
That's part of our focus at the Department of Justice, is we want to create communities where children can go. We want to create environments where they have activities that they can kind of dive into, whether it's sports organizations or it's the Boys' and Girls' Club … We have all these different programs that give them an opportunity to stay busy and stay focused, to find what they love and go after it and then they don't have time to get in trouble.
I guess my message to a lot of youth is oftentimes we don't know why our mentors or our teachers or our parents are telling us to do certain things. But I guarantee you, if you take the right road and you do the right thing and you don't cut corners, in some way, shape or form, it's going to pay off.
Those famous words that Bela Karolyi yelled to me right before, you know, the last vault: "Kerri, listen to me, you can do it." … He kind of refocused me when I needed it most. … Atlanta definitely changed the course of my life, and how I perceive my everyday actions.
I've tried to kind of utilize my position to make a difference, to contribute to society in different ways. … And I think where I feel the most self-satisfaction is when I go out and help the child. … Oftentimes now, I think we're so focused on: They're doing this, they're doing that, and gangs are here, um, you know -- this drug is becoming more prevalent. But, no. We have to kind of believe in our youth and help them make the right decisions. … And if communities come together and really help our youth and give them an alternative to taking the wrong actions, they'll be much more likely to be successful and, you know, make the right choices.