How an Olympic Track Runner Became a Fitness Inspiration for Spartan Women

How an Olympic Track Runner Became a Fitness Inspiration for Spartan Women

Spartan exists because of you: our community, one that stretches around the world across more than 40 countries. We know you are hurting, and we are confident that you have thoughts on how, together, we can transform tomorrow. We value every voice. We believe that to act, we first must listen. In this new series, Signed, a Spartan, we profile members from our community who have overcome adversity and become advocates for not just OCR, but the kind of transformation it can spur. These Spartans are helping guide the company into a new era of inclusivity — they are inspiring us all to be agents of change. To share your thoughts on how we can celebrate diversity and act against racism, send us an email at pathforward@spartan.com

More Signed, a Spartan: How One Single Mom Who Never Exercised Became a Spartan for Life

Running Fast and Setting Records

Passing the baton has become a pretty powerful metaphor for Mechelle Freeman.

Growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, she and her twin sister were known as “the fast twins.” You’d see them racing around the neighborhood together. Once they were on their high school track team, you’d see them whizzing around the track, breaking records and winning national championships. They would pass the baton back and forth while they practiced the relay and dreamed of someday going to the Olympics.

 

They both received scholarships to the University of South Carolina, but Freeman’s sister had a career-ending injury shortly after they started there. “We had been the 'fast twins' for so long,” she says. “It was time for me to come into my own.” And she did, becoming a three-time All-American athlete and winning the 2002 Track & Field Outdoor Championships. She decided to stay there for graduate school, effectively ending her running career (or so she thought), and took an internship with Young & Rubicam, an advertising agency, in New York City in 2004.

 

It was in NYC that she says she had what can only be described as a spiritual awakening. After a broken-off engagement, Freeman was alone in a city she didn’t know. “Being so isolated, that’s when I started having a deeper relationship with God,” she says. “I developed an understanding that there was a bigger story for me.” During that time, she resolved to return to running so she could try to qualify for the Olympics. She quit her job and decided to move to North Carolina so she could train full-time.

Related: How One Spartan Raced Back From a Sedentary Death Sentence

Making a Triumphant Return to the Track

Freeman says it was her faith that propelled her through her track comeback. “I lost a lot of races in the beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty,” she says. “My faith kept me grounded.” After all, it’s unusual for a track athlete to take four years off before becoming an Olympic-level professional runner.

She committed herself fully to the all-consuming, grueling training regimen, working out six days a week, keeping track of her protein by the gram, taking ice baths, and trying to mentally prepare for the competition ahead. “The challenge is showing up in that space mentally, physically, and spiritually prepared,” she says. In 2007, she found herself in a heat — competing against Olympic champion and three-time world champion Allyson Felix — to become one of the four women to make the world championship team in the 100 meters. “The race was make or break for me. I was going to be the person who used to run or the person who took four years off and made a mark.”

 

She crossed the finish line, beating the closest competitor out by a thousandth of a second. From there on, it was a race to the Olympics. Sponsors signed on, and despite an injury leading up to the Olympic trials, she secured a spot on the team, running the 100 meters in under 11 seconds.

 

But it was the 4x100 relay that would bring Freeman onto the Olympic track in Beijing. “I’m a relay person,” she says, “always been that way.” Once she stepped into the stadium, she realized that the conversations she had with her twin sister as a kid had been realized. “It’s an electric moment," she remembers. "Of all the four girls representing USA, I was one of them.” The race didn’t end the way she dreamed, though, as her teammates dropped the baton and they were disqualified.

Passing the Baton to a New Generation

Freeman has a refreshing perspective on her Olympic journey, however. “It wasn’t about the medal, it was about our journey,” she reflects. “I put all that aside and walked off the track. But I’ll be able to tell my story forever.” Since then, she has devoted much of her time to mentoring a new generation of track and field stars, becoming a relay coach for USA Track & Field teams.

 

Perhaps most meaningfully, she founded TrackGirlz, a non-profit organization founded to empower young women by using track and field to provide access to sisterhood, education, and mentorship. It ensures that they have direct access to world-class athletes and coaches, something that’s very important to Freeman. “Track and field brings them opportunity academically, athletically, and socially,” she says. “It’s a sport that positively impacts girls in multiple areas of their lives.” She’s also raising a family with her husband, David Freeman, a program manager for Life Time’s athletic performance brand, Alpha. They have a 5 year old son, Bayne, and a 4 year old daughter, Harley.

Currently based in Texas, Freeman and her husband began working with Spartan during the pandemic, sharing their unique functional fitness workouts with our community. “I love how the range of workouts can play a role in someone’s performance," she says. "Each approach has a place for Spartan athletes." Though they haven’t done an obstacle course race yet, she says she’s looking forward to tackling the first one in their area. In the meantime, her husband is passing her the proverbial baton, and she will be creating new track and field-inspired workouts for Spartans.

“To be able to share workouts that I know are effective," she says, "and can translate to help achieve a goal and help someone be their best, I’m all for it!” 

OUR COMMITMENT TO LESS TALK, MORE ACTION

As part of this initiative, Spartan is committed to taking the following actions:

  • Give 200,000+ race tickets to support local communities, starting with BEAT THE STREETS
  • Work with youth organizations in marginalized communities to promote active lifestyles
  • Reach out to our existing minority communities to give them a louder voice and platform
  • Open a 24/7 community hotline to ensure all are heard
  • Recruit, develop, and foster athletes from underrepresented communities in the sport of OCR
  • Expand our community guidelines to create a social code of conduct to ensure our community is a safe and inclusive space
  • Prioritize the efforts of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee to learn from our employees and take meaningful action
  • Assess our people operations and hiring practices to help us build a more diverse team and create an equitable and inclusive environment for all employees.