USATF athletes train kids at RUNJUMPTHROW Experience

You may remember US Olympian and silver medalist Manteo Mitchell, as the athlete who broke his leg, yet finished the heat, during the London Games in 2012. Mitchell, 2012 national indoor champion Kristi Castlin, and 2005 world champion Bershawn Jackson represented USA Track & Field in the RUNJUMPTHROW Experience at Myers Park High School, in Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Mitchell was an ambassador for SUBWAY®'s Fit For Life campaign. USA Track & Field partnered this fall with local SUBWAY® restaurants in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, encouraging kids to get active and stay healthy through the SUBWAY® “Fit For Life Challenge” program. Aimed at elementary and middle-school students, the Fit For Life Challenge promotes health habits during a two-week challenge taking place in October, dubbed “Fit-tober.”

A partnership between USA Track & Field and The Hershey Company, RunJumpThrow is a turn-key, hands-on learning program that gets kids excited about physical activity by introducing them to basic running, jumping and throwing skills through track and field – the foundation of nearly every sport. The RJT lesson plan, endorsed by SHAPE America, is designed to be accessible to all children, regardless of athletic ability or fitness level. (Source)

More thank 50,000 children in the region took the Fit For Life Challenge in 2013. This year, select students at schools participating in the challenge will have the opportunity to attend these special “RUNJUMPTHROW Experience” events, presented by USATF throughout the region.

Mitchell is currently training for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China, and hopes to make the US Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mitchell spoke, via phone, with AXS about his involvement with Fit For Life, "RJT", and his life on and off the track. Mitchell is an elite sprinter, running in the 200m, 400m, and 4X400m relay, but he started out as a football player at Crest High School in Shelby, North Carolina.

I was first introduced to the sport [track & field] my junior year, but I started training and taking it seriously my senior year of high school. I played football, that's what I was pretty much known for, and I was going to go to school for that. I had scholarship offers and all that good stuff. Then [I] ended up breaking my arm, ironically, my senior year.

Mitchell continued playing football, winning a state title with his team, but track & field ended up being his calling when football scholarship offers began to dwindle. Mitchell says that track was not as hard on his body as football, but it would be a tough physical moment on the track that propelled Mitchell into legendary status. Mitchell's left fibula snapped, at the 200m mark as he ran the lead-off leg in the preliminary heat of the 4X400m relay in London in 2012. (Source) Mitchell describes what the final 200 meters were like:

It was excruciating pain. I just gathered myself and my thoughts...just made something negative become positive...and just kept running.

An inspiring event by someone who continues to inspire off the track. Mitchell received his Masters in physical education from Western Carolina University in 2012, and travels the world as a motivational speaker and competitive runner. Mitchell's participation with RUNJUMPTHROW helps introduce children to fundamental skills that formulate the basics of an elite athlete's training and education to start healthy habits early in life.

From the RUNJUMPTHROW press release:

Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. (Center for Disease Control, Childhood Obesity Facts)

Obesity rates are higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese. (Center for Disease Control, Childhood Obesity Facts)

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, helps control weight and chronic diseases such as diabetes, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Additionally, regular physical activity in young people may help improve students’ academic performance including grades, time management, concentration and attentiveness, as reported by CDC.

Mitchell on RUNJUMPTHROW:

The event is an introduction to our sport. We run in our sport, we jump in our sport, and there are people in our sport who throw. We try to introduce them to all three components of track & field. It's everything we do at an elite level scaled down to the kids' level. We add music to it. It enhances their fine motor skills. It teaches kids to do things they didn't know they could do.

It's amazing to see their talent level, even if they've never done it before. It's like, 'Okay, she's going to be a good hurdler, or he's going to be a good thrower.' A lot of those kids are super fast, and it amazes me because they are just eight, nine or ten years old and don't realize the talent they have.

USATF is not only helping children break the cycle of obesity with this event, they are bringing much needed attention to an often forgotten sport. The sport of track & field tends to fall into the shadows of football, basketball and baseball in the US during non-Olympic years, but Mitchell says track & field is only second to soccer in European popularity.

They call it "athletics" in Europe. Track & field is super popular in Europe. They don't have American football. They have basketball, but it's not as big as it is here in the States. They don't have baseball. They have soccer, which is huge over there. If you ask me, or ask anybody that knows the sports' world, in Europe, it's soccer and then track & field. Here, it's football, basketball, baseball, everything else, and then track & field.

Believe it or not, track & field is the most highly participated in sport in the world.

So what do USATF athletes do when there are no Olympics? Mitchell says they stay pretty active:

We have world championships. We have races in the US. We have what's called the European circuit, where we'll go over for one, two or three months at a time and actually race and make money. We'll travel all over the world to race in different countries and different cities.

The World Championships are every year except Olympic years. The Indoor Championships are every two years. There's a championship almost every year, typically. There are so many things, and our sport is so overlooked, but that's starting to change with more things being televised.

Mitchell says the USATF is working on increasing the visibility of the sport by potentially developing TV deals that will televise all races to US fans. When Mitchell is not training, he spends quality time with his family, especially his two-year-old son, Khi. His schedule is also packed with travels around the world as a motivational speaker. Mitchell flew out of town on Friday, but will make his way back to the region to appear at the RUNJUMPTHROW event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Monday, November 24, 2014.

Initially, I wasn't going to make it to Myrtle Beach because I'm going out of town. The kids down there had the highest participation rate in the Fit For Life campaign. When they heard I may not make it, they started sending me sad faces, and messages. I didn't want to disappoint them, so I'm using my own money to fly down there and be there on Monday.

If you'd like to keep up with Mitchell and all he has going on, you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram under username @manteomitchell. Follow USATF using @USATF on Twitter and Instagram.