Bryan Clay fulfilled a lifelong goal by going to Beijing and winning an Olympic gold medal. On Friday he fulfilled a promise by coming back to the High Desert as Olympic champion and encouraging students to reach for their own dreams.


"Do you know how old I was when I started dreaming of being in the Olympics?" Clay asked students at Maple Elementary School in Hesperia. "I was 8 years old. You're going to have a goal in four weeks. It's the state tests, and it's like your Olympics."


But Clay was not only in town to encourage others, he also presented each of six schools in Hesperia and Phelan their share of more than $65,000 raised through the Bryan Clay Foundation's first-ever Walk-a-Thon. The foundation gave 80 percent of the money raised back to each school to support field trips, assemblies, student awards, sports equipment and more. And students who collected the most money at each school also will receive a pair of athletic shoes.


On Friday, an estimated 4,000 students walked Friday to help their schools and affirm Clay's belief that physical fitness is a necessary part of becoming a complete person.


"We believe in a strong mind and a strong body," said Clay who visited a school an hour beginning from 7:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.


It wasn't only the students who were excited. So were teachers and school principals who extolled Clay's virtues.


"This is a very, very special day," said Maple Elementary School principal Karen Elgan, who played collegiate volleyball. "Bryan Clay, the greatest athlete in the world, is here."


Last year, Clay, who has also won a World Championship title and several national championships, visited Mesquite Trails Elementary School in Hesperia. School principal Dave Stewart is a former Olympic hopeful who trained with Clay when Stewart was pursuing a birth on the Canadian Olympic team in 2004.


Local schools participating in the Walk-a-Thon were Mesquite Trails, Mesa Grande, Carmel and Mapel elementary schools in Hesperia and Heritage and Phelan elementary schools in Phelan.