“I’m really proud to be honored among some great individuals for inclusion in the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame,” the Smyrna resident said. “I’m 75 years old, so, at the same time, I’m thinking, ‘It’s about time.’”
Already a member of five different halls of fame, including the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, Pender was unsure if he’d even be alive before his induction into his hometown’s hall of fame.
“I’m really getting up there in age,” he quipped. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be one of those guys who was dead before he’s inducted, or if I’d live to see it. Thank God I got in this one before I passed away.”
The induction ceremony is set for Saturday at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center. The other inductees include basketball pioneer Jackie Bradford, sportscaster Bill Hartman, high school basketball coach Phil McCrary and former Georgia Tech football star Randy Rhino.
A Smyrna resident since 2000, Pender’s athletic success came later in life.
A decorated veteran of combat who received the Bronze Star of Valor and served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War, he participated in the Summer Olympics twice as a member of the U.S. track and field team. In 1968, the then-31-year-old Pender became the oldest American sprinter to win a gold medal as part of the 400-meter relay team.
Pender joined the Army when he was 17 and, early in his military service, began competing as an athlete. Military officers took notice of his speed and quickness during camp football games, and Pender took up track for the first time when he was 25, which led to him being selected to the U.S. Olympic team for the 1964 Tokyo Games.
Pender finished sixth in the finals of the 100 dash, but injuries prevented him from fully competing in Tokyo.
He went back to the Olympics four years later in Mexico City, where he won his gold medal with his relay teammates in a then-world record time of 38.24 seconds. He also placed sixth again in the finals of the 100.
During his career, Pender set world indoor records in four events.
Pender retired from the Army at the rank of captain in 1976 after serving for 21 years. He ran for the Army track team, the Philadelphia Pioneer Track Club and served as the first black track and field head coach for the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
Pender also worked as a designer of track shoes, and a marketing specialist after retiring from the service.
“My life has been like a fairy tale,” said Pender, who now spends much of his time as a motivational speaker and child advocate. “God has been good to me, allowing me to serve my country and help young people. Along the way, he gave me world records, an Olympic gold medal and a great wife. I’ve been blessed.
“It’s amazing to me to see what I’ve accomplished, and I’m proud of the things I’ve been able to do.”