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Uncommon Courage

With Olympian Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Mechelle Lewis Freeman
Season 2, Episode 13 | November 24, 2020

In this episode, Olympic sprinter Mechelle Lewis Freeman shares her story of drive and commitment as she trained for the 2008 Olympics — and how she applies those same characteristics to the work she does today as a high-performance coach and the founder of her nonprofit, TrackGirlz. She also offers advice we can all follow around owning our own path, staying true to our core beliefs, overcoming setbacks, and having the uncommon courage to go after what we want.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman is a track and field Olympian, USA Track and Field relays coach, and the founder and codirector of TrackGirlz, a nonprofit organization that provides access to track and field, empowerment, and sisterhood for women and girls.

There is one constant that weaves through Freeman’s entire story: She’s owned her path. Here are four pieces of advice she offers for doing that yourself: 

  • Identify your core values. Think about when you’re the happiest or strongest. “Once you understand who you are, whenever you make decisions and choices, you have a vision for yourself,” says Freeman. “Then you can always reset or test your direction to make sure everything is aligned.”
  • Be ready to go against naysayers. In 2006, Freeman quit her corporate marketing job to train to make the 2008 Olympic team. “If it’s against logic, human beings are naturally going to have doubt or curiosity as to why you think it’s possible,” says Freeman. “They’re not going to see what you see, but you have to see it and believe it.”
  • What you do every day matters. “Every choice that I made was going to put me toward the goal I wanted to achieve. If something didn’t align with that, I didn’t do it,” says Freeman. “If you’re trying to be the best in the world, you have to be the best every day.”
  • Control the controllables. In the midst of her Olympic training, Freeman suffered a knee injury that forced her to stop running for four months. To continue to grow and progress, she pivoted to do what she could: Run in the water. “I fooled my body,” says Freeman. “Everything I did on the track, I did in the water, so my body didn’t think I was doing anything different. When I came out of those four months, I was able to get back to training in a way where I still progressed.”

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Transcript: Uncommon Courage

Season 13, Episode 13  | November 24, 2020

Jamie Martin 
Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor in chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman 
And I’m David Freeman, the national program leader for Life Time’s Alpha program. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we’re working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving forward in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin 
In each episode of this season, we’ll break down various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real, inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman 
And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[Music]

Jamie Martin

A quick shout-out to our sponsor, HOKA ONE ONE®, a footwear and apparel brand with a mission to empower all athletes to feel like they can fly. I’m personally a fan of HOKA’s EVO Rehi’s. It’s a pair of super lightweight running shoes that offers just the right amount of cushion and support without feeling heavy and bulky and that’s something I’ve really struggled with over the years as I’ve been on the hunt for good running shoes.

In uncertain times like these, HOKA knows movement can provide an important outlet, both mentally and physically, as well as a crucial perspective about our circumstances. Head to hokaoneone.com and follow @hokaoneone on Instagram to see examples of how HOKA athletes everywhere are finding inspiration, motivation, and joy in daily movement. That’s hokaoneone.com.

[Music]

Jamie Martin

Hey, everyone, I’m Jamie Martin.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman.

Jamie Martin

And welcome back to Life Time Talks. In this episode, we have a very special guest who is close to this team, to our podcast team, Olympic sprinter and TrackGirlz founder, Mechelle Lewis Freeman, who happens to be married to you, David.

David Freeman

Yes, she is married to me. Yes, she is. And I’m very blessed to have her as my wife, so I’m going to try to get all of the kudo points in this intro that I can on my wife here. Nonetheless, so many great different things that Chelle was able to hit on throughout the whole episode. She touched on so many different things, but the thing that stood out to me, and it always stands out to me, is whenever I hear her story, over and over again I’ve heard it so many times, but I always find out something new in each story that she shares. And I don’t know if she’s adding it and I might have missed it the first time since I’m such a great listener, right, but it’s something about the way she tells her story, she needs to go ahead and put together a book because it’s simply amazing and I’m really excited for everybody to strap in and listen to today’s episode with us. What were some takeaways from you?

Jamie Martin

When we decided to do this episode with Mechelle, we were kind of framing it around this idea of Olympic mindset. And I think there were so many things that I didn’t know about Mechelle’s story until we did this. I had done my research, I’ve read, I talked to you, David, I knew bits and pieces, and I’d met Mechelle just briefly in the past, but, to hear her story from when she kind of made this transition out of a New York city job to pursue the Olympics, and then her evolution since then, there are so many interesting lessons in that that she shared from her mindset, her commitment, the successes, the challenges, the injuries that she overcame, but yet, always within any aspect of that, this kind of commitment to trusting in herself, believing in herself, and following and owning her path. And that really resonated with me throughout our entire conversation. And I just love the mindset that she shared and it’s something that I’ve written down and kind of looked back on since we recorded this episode, is this thing she shared about the importance of operating as your true self in order to operate in your full purpose.

To me, that was really about believing in you, knowing yourself, trusting yourself. David, you know her better than almost anyone, perhaps maybe her twin sister, I don’t know, but what do you want listeners to know about her?

David Freeman

Well, I think the key word that you said there was ownership. And I think going into anything and everything that she approaches, she owns it. So if we go all the way back to 2006 when she said she was going to quit her job to pursue the Olympics, she owned that moment. No matter what the rest of the world was saying she owned it. And then when she went into, I believe it was 2015, when she quit her job again and she says, I’m going to start my business with TrackGirlz.

And the whole purpose behind her knowing who she is is a beautiful thing, but owning and being true to yourself and operating at your fullest, that’s a beautiful thing as well, so, I know a lot of the listeners are going to have a lot of great takeaways from this episode. I’m super excited to share it with my family and I know the kids as they get older, when we get to replay this it’s going to be something special for them as well.

Jamie Martin

I’m glad I got to be the third wheel in this conversation with you two, that was so fun for me. I just want to touch on TrackGirlz for a second because that is also an important part of Mechelle’s story, is that sense of community and sisterhood that she’s so passionate about, so I wonder if you can just speak to that briefly before we get into the episode.

David Freeman

When Chelle came about the why behind TrackGirlz, empowering women, breaking down walls, being able to elevate individuals, female individuals, to operate at their fullest. Her vision is very clear and she’s worked with so many different individuals over the years so when I look at her going to South Africa, seeing the different young ladies smiling and moving, Arizona, Minnesota, Texas, and just to be able to make that impact and create that influence at such as young age, it’s the foundation, so for her to be able to do the things she’s been able to do in five years and continue to do is just an amazing thing and I’m super excited to share TrackGirlz to the world.

Jamie Martin 

What I’m really excited about is for our listeners to hear from this Olympian who has had such amazing accomplishments and has done so many things not only at the Olympics, but also in her time since then. It’s a true evolution story of where she was, where she’s been, and how she got her. So, with that, let’s get to the episode.

David Freeman

You guys enjoy, this is my baby.

Jamie Martin

[Laughter]

[Music]

Jamie Martin

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Life Time Talks. We are super excited to welcome Mechelle Lewis Freeman to the podcast today. Hey, Mechelle.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Hey, how are you?

Jamie Martin

I’m doing fine. How’s everything going for you?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Going well. Thank you. Just, you know, looking forward to having this conversation with you guys, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Jamie Martin

OK, so I just want to set the stage for our listeners about how this is all running today. So, caveat, that Mechelle and David are married. They’re actually in the same house right now in different rooms recording this episode, which is super fun. So how did you guys decide who was going where and how you were going to handle today?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

We have our space in the home. So I’m in my space, David’s in his space, and we already know that that’s how it operates when we have things to do work related.

David Freeman

I see what you did there. You said MySpace, and that’s where we met at. Look at that.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh, that’s very true.

Jamie Martin

We might have to go back and hear that part of your story at some time. OK.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Shout out to MySpace, yes.

Jamie Martin

I love it. Alright. So, Mechelle, you have a pretty awesome story, and so let’s just go back, and I want to hear about, you know, how did you initially get involved in track and field, and then let’s kind of walk through your journey towards competing in the 2008 Olympics.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh my goodness, well, that’s going back a few years. When I think about how I got involved in track and field, I think about, you know, being a young girl. I have a twin sister, so we were known as the Lewis Twins growing up, and one thing that really sticks with me to this day is my mom was big on making sure we had access and exposure so we can have the opportunity to really figure out who we are and how we identify ourselves and what we enjoy to do, and so she always wanted us to try different things.

So we did dance, you know, we were in Girl Scouts, and we tried out sports, and so when we tried out sports, that’s what really stuck with us. Then we started out with basketball in sixth grade, and the basketball coach forced us to play soccer and keep us in shape, which, we ended up winning the soccer championship that year, so it was actually a great idea, and from there, we were known as the Fast Twins now.

So they were always like, man, those twins are fast, whether we were on the court or on the soccer field, and so by the time we got to high school, they were like, you have to try out for the track team, and so we did, and since the first day of practice, we were always beating people, and so high school was really when we found ourselves in the sport of track and field. We were state champions, national top three in the nation in our events, and we went on to choose University of South Carolina to continue running track and field at the collegiate level.

Jamie Martin

So awesome.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

I know. So, I mean, track and field was, from that point, going to be, really, a foundation of, you know, who we are. Our friendships started to form out of track and field, and just learning who we are, character development, and really, you know, standing out in our athletic ability. At University of South Carolina, we were on the team that brought the first national championship in any sport to the university.

And I really thought that I would . . . you know, when you think about track and field, you naturally think about the Olympics, and so we always talked about the Olympics, but my sister had a career-ending injury in college, and so that’s when I really started to come into my own as an individual. You know, when you’re a twin, you always have your twin next to you. You know, you’re known as the twins. But I really started to think about, wow, like, you know, who am I and what I want to do?

So I started to think I wanted to go to the Olympics, and after I graduated from University of South Carolina, that was the plan, but I had a really, really bad hamstring injury, and so I was like, well, I’ll do plan B and go to grad school, but plan B was actually really good. I studied integrated marketing communications, and I really thought I was going to go on and work at an ad agency for the rest of my life and have a corner office. I don’t know if anybody has seen the movie Boomerang. I know David has.

David Freeman

Yes, I have.

Jamie Martin

I have not seen it, so I’m writing it down. OK, tell us about it.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh my goodness, you have to see Boomerang. That’s where I got my inspiration for my corner office and New York City ad agency life. Yes, you have to go see Boomerang, Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens, and Halle Berry. So good, but yeah, from there, I went to New York and started working. I was in corporate America for two years, and I had not run since college. So, between grad school and working two years in New York, that was four years I did not run, and so in 2006 now, I was like, you know what? I think I want to start training for the Olympics again, and so I quit my corporate job and moved to North Carolina to start training for the Olympic Games.

Jamie Martin

Oh my gosh. OK, so I didn’t realize that you did not run for four years. I mean, you were an active person, right? Like, you were still moving in some way, shape, or form, but then what was it like to get back into that training?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh my goodness. So, in New York, you’re moving, but it was a different type of moving. I was moving at the magazine parties, and I was moving — because we walk everywhere in New York, and you know, I was in the my early 20s. I was living just that fun, independent, New York City life, coming to myself as a person. I feel like New York City . . . we move all the time, David and I, and I feel like New York City really represents that time of my life of coming into myself, understanding who I was as a woman, as an adult, as understanding my strengths individually.

And one of the things that came out of New York was the foundation of my faith, and I won’t say the foundation, because I always grew up where faith was instilled in us as a family, but I would say as owning my path in faith, because now it wasn’t forced for you to go to church on Sundays, or go to Sunday school, or you had to sing in the choir. You know, now I had my own choices to make, and so I started to really have it as a foundation of my choices, and so I think that anyone should understand those core beliefs of who they are, and so whenever you make decisions and choices and you have a vision for yourself, that it’s always aligned back to those foundational beliefs.

David Freeman

Yeah, I want to piggyback off that. So, I mean, it was two things that I want to touch on. One, you were talking about identity as far as once you separated from Mikisha, your twin, and then you go into this mindset. So these two things I don’t think are isolated. They come into you growing and understanding your process. So when you think of your identity and your mindset, can you explain that, when you came into your identity, where that vision took you from a mindset standpoint to pursue the Olympics?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman
Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, I think that, you know, when you come into understanding who you are, and that way, you’re always able to operate in your true self, and you know, I really think that’s important because you have to operate in your true self to really operate in your full purpose, if that makes sense.

So, like, when you’re really able to identify with the core beliefs and your values of who you are and what you believe, then you can attach that to your vision because it’s aligned to who you believe you are and the things that you see for yourself, and so when you attach that to the vision, then whenever you go along that path of dreaming big, or even when you go along that path of being discouraged, you always go back to the point of I’m living true to myself.

This is what I want for myself. This is what I see for myself, so I know it is going to be true, and once you have that full belief and that mindset and understanding that when you operate in your full self, you’re operating in your true purpose, then, along that path, even when you come against the challenges, you know that you can get through it because you stayed true to the vision. You stayed true to who you are, and you just keep moving forward, even amongst fear, because your faith is bigger than that.

David Freeman

So go a little bit deeper. I mean, that was deep already. So when I say go deeper here, I’m speaking on what people were thinking when you said, in 2006, you’re going to attempt to make the 2008 Olympic team.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman
Right. So, I mean, OK, so I’m in New York City. You know, everyone knows me as the account executive. We had a fun group. I loved my team at Y&R. I was working at Y&R, one of the top three global ad agencies in the world. My client was Xerox. I was going to magazine shoots, photo shoots, and you know, we were just living that ad agency, New York City, Madison Avenue life, and that’s how they knew me.

So when I came to them saying, hey, I’m going to quit my job to make this Olympic team, you know, everyone’s going to think you’re crazy, and so I just got a Facebook message from one of my coworkers being like, you really said you were going to quit your job and make the Olympic team, and you really did it, and she said, I still can’t believe that, and that’s 2020, and we had this conversation in 2004. You know, think about that. I was 23.

I was, you know, at that point of, like, living my wildest dreams, feeling like I can do whatever, you know, at that age and invincible, my mom calls it. That’s how she always says. You always think you’re invincible, and so then that’s when I was just able to just have that — it says uncommon courage, and to really just go for it, and so that’s why I said . . . you know, I had gone through a bad breakup, and David knows this because, you know, he’s happy I went through that breakup because, clearly, you know, it worked out for him and me, but in New York, I had gone through a really bad breakup.

I was engaged to be married, and a part of that dismantled relationship was a part of that rebuilding of understanding who I was and you know, my true self, my courage, my faith, and everything, and so as long as you have, like I said, that foundational belief, then what you go against, you have to be ready to go against all the naysayers, everybody that’s going to think you’re crazy because they’re going to give you that energy.

Because the thing is, it’s against logic, and anything, as human beings that’s against logic, you’re naturally going to have some type of doubt or curiosity as in to why someone may think that’s possible, and so when it comes to your faith, you know, which I was really deep in at that time, and I was able to say, yes, I know this is true, and this is going to happen, and so that’s what you have to have.

You really have to have that belief system attached whenever you’re ready to go forward with something, because the people are going to think you’re crazy, and they’re not going to see what you see, but you have to see it, and you have to believe it, and then that’s what’s going to keep you going whenever you go along those bumps, and then you can say something big, like I’m going to quit this great job to move to North Carolina and pursue my Olympic dream.

Jamie Martin

I love that. OK, so let’s talk about this. So you go to North Carolina. You start training. You end up World Championships, making the Olympic team. What was that experience like?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh my goodness. So, along with the breakup . . . just before I moved to North Carolina, David just happened to come in my inbox on MySpace and you know, sent me a cute little note, making sure I saw his nice face and smile and whatever picture he’d posted that caught my attention back then, and so I responded to him, and so we just happened to start talking a month before I moved to North Carolina, where he just happened to live an hour away from where I was going to be moving to.

So once I moved to North Carolina and chose that particular coach, David and I have been together ever since then, and so David has been along this journey with me and he can, you know, see everything and understand, because he’s built from the same cloth when it comes to work ethic and determination and really goal-oriented, and so he was with me along this journey, and he understood, and that’s also important because I was with someone who understood that sometimes the relationship is going to have to not be the priority on this journey, and so that took a lot of sacrifice.

It took a lot of belief in him to also see and support my vision, as well, and so going into training every day, it went from happy hours to, you know, waking up at 6 a.m. and doing 2.5 hours in the weight room, to 2.5 hours on the track, and you got to come home and do your recovery work, 2.5 hours, whether that’s chiropractor or massages or doing ice baths. You got to make sure what you’re eating is calculated, your supplementation, your water intake, your sleep.

There’s nothing that you’re doing every single day that does not matter, and so that is the type of mentality that I had, but the height of my discipline and the height of my focus was uncompromised, and it was every choice that I was going to make was going to be make sure that it was putting me towards the goal that I wanted to achieve, and if it was something that did not align with that, I did not do it, and that was the bottom line. It was a non-negotiable.

So that was the type of mindset I was at every day. You’re training at the track six days a week. You’re training in the weight room five days a week, and you need your body and your mind to be at a height, at the highest height every day. You’re trying to be the best in the world, and that means that you have to be the best every single day. It’s not like one day you just show up and you’re the best in the world, but it’s about consistency, your habits.

Like, what you do every day is who you are, and so that was what changed in that time. You know, that first year back, I had to make this World Championship team. It was going to be my first real test. It was nine months after I moved, and I had to get top four in the country to make this team, and I remember my semi-final, I had the top three women in the world in my heat, and so I’m like, oh my goodness, I had Allyson Felix in my heat, Lauryn Williams, Carmelita Jeter.

And so it was like, how is Mechelle Lewis going to make this team and I have top three girls in the world already? And when the gun went off, you know, I crossed the line, and the top three names went up, and of course, it was those three names, and it was only one spot left, and it was six girls left, and I knew that either I would go back home or I would be on the path towards the direction that I said I wanted to do.

But in that moment, I knew I did everything possible to put myself in the right direction, and when they put that fourth name up, it said Mechelle Lewis, and I beat the girl who got fifth place by a thousandth of a second, and so I tell everybody, you know, you have to be very in tempo every day to make sure your choices and your decisions, what you’re pouring into yourself, what you’re listening to, everything puts you on the side of the thousandth of a second that you want to be on.

Jamie Martin

That’s amazing. OK, so, I mean, in the midst of all this, you were being the best you can every single day, but we all run into challenges. We all face moments of doubt and discouragement. Do you have an example of that happening for you, and how did you overcome that? Because, I mean, it sounds like you had this self-belief and the self-confidence, but in those moments, if there were moments of doubt, what did that look like for you?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh, gosh, so after making the World Championship team, I went on . . . I got a Nike contract. Y&R, my ad agency, they sponsored me. Xerox, the client that I managed, they sponsored me. So World Championships, I finished ninth in the world in the 100 meters. I was a world champion on the 4×100 metre relay. I was a Pan Am Games silver medalist.

So I was going on and just winning medals around the world over the next three months, and so September comes, and now it’s Olympic year, and I’m like, OK, god, I’m so happy for this first year, but you know, this is what I really want, the Olympic Games, and so I start training, and I start feeling my knee, and then that knee pain goes from days of pain to weeks of pain to months of pain, and it turns out that I didn’t run for four months.

I didn’t run from September of ’07 through January of ’08, and so you got to imagine, like, if you’re saying, oh, I’m so faithful. Oh, I know I could do anything and you’ve been telling yourself every day, and it’s like, well, let me test that faith. Let me see how faithful you are. I’m going to take away the one thing you say you want really, really bad. I’m going to see how faithful you are, and so how do you show up still? How do you control the controllables?

How do you still stay focused when I said I want to be the best in the world at something I can’t even do, you know? And so that’s when you got to think about what are you saying to yourself every day? You got to go back to what are you listening to every day? You got to pour into yourself in those areas that you need to strengthen, and so I got to make sure my mindset — you know, think about what you can control. Control the controllables. We heard that before. What can I control? The way I think.

So I’m making sure everything I’m reading, everything I’m saying to myself, whoever I’m talking to is building me up in that way that I need to be. How can I pivot? How can I still grow and progress in this time if I can’t run? What can I do? I can run in the pool. I go get an aqua belt, and I go deep-water running and doing my workouts. I’m fooling my body. Everything that I’m doing on the track, I’m doing in the water. So my body’s not thinking I’m doing anything different. I’m programming myself.

Everything’s normal. Everything’s the same, and so when I came out of that four months, I was able to get back into it in a way where I still progressed. You want to make sure you’re still progressing. You got to pivot. You got to still push forward in those times of challenges to make sure you’re still growing in that time of challenges, so when you come out of it, you’re in a position where you have not come in a way where you lost anything.

Jamie Martin

I love that. That growth mentality, not just from a — it’s a mindset mentality, but also, like, you were doing that physically, too, to set yourself up for success within that.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh, for sure. I mean, all those brain training techniques, you know, visualization and all the relaxation things, you know, you got to make sure, like, just like we always hear, you got to train the body, you got to train the brain. So you can trick your body into thinking everything’s normal, as long as you train your brain to make it think that way, and so, you know, that’s what I had to do, and Olympic trials were coming up, and three months later, it was show time, you know, that moment that you’ve been talking about.

Like, I’m going to make this Olympic team. That day is here. You know, with the Olympic trials, no matter if you’re fast on May 7 or January 26, you need to be fast on June 23, 2008 to make sure you’re the top three in the country, and so when that day came, I was ready, and I was ready mentally. I felt ready physically, and I had done everything possible so that when I showed up at the line, whatever that result was going to be, I knew that that’s what the result was supposed to be.

So we have four rounds. The first round, I come out. I do well. Second round, I come out. I run the fastest time I’ve ever run in my life. I run 10.95, but it was wind-aided, and so when it’s wind-aided, it doesn’t really count as your real time, but I was like, it’s OK, I still felt good. So I come out third round. Now I run 10.97. Now it’s not wind-aided, so I’m like, woo, I’m on fire. I’m ready.

So I’m coming back with one of the top times in the final, and then when the final comes, the gun goes off. You know, I had just run really fast the last couple days, and so that fourth time happened to do it. It just didn’t hit it like I wanted to, and so I finished seventh, and I’m like, oh, I didn’t make top three, so I didn’t think I made the team, but they said, Lewis, we want you to come to Beijing because we want you to be in the relay pool. We’re going to take all eight girls who made the finals to be in the relay pool.

And so I’m like, alright, cool, but you know, everyone’s happy. My mom’s like, she made it. I’m like, I made it. Y&R, you made it. David, you made it. But I didn’t tell anyone that it was a chance that I may not run. You see, it was four girls who were going to be selected. There was eight girls they were taking, and so I never, to this day, spoke that. I never, to this day, shared that, and I went on to Beijing with the mentality that I was going to be one of those four girls.

David Freeman

And now we’re in Beijing, and this is what you’ve been working for, right, since you quit your job. Now you’re in front of millions of people watching all over the world. You’re not on the track yet. Let’s take a step back. You had to make a decision whether or not you were going to open the ceremonies. I know you shared it with me many times, but tell people about that sacrifice, as well, prior to you stepping onto the track and the decision you got to make.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Right. Again, you’re hyper-focused, right? So when you’re in that mentality, it’s going to be a lot of sacrifices that come along with that, and so this one particular time, it was our last practice in Beijing before the games started, and we were about three hours away at another city in our training camp, and a relay coach came to us, and he said, look, you have an option. You can either stay here, and we’re going to do one more practice tomorrow, or you can take the flight back today and go to opening ceremonies and miss the last day of practice. It’s up to you, and I’m like, is it up to me to make a decision like that? Come on. So, of course, you know, I chose to miss the opening ceremonies. I did not go, and I watched it on TV like everybody else, and so that was a hard decision. You know, that’s one of the moments you think about once you make the Olympic team. Like, I get to walk in the opening ceremonies. So that was, you know, something that was hard to give up, but again, I needed to run, and that’s what I came to do, and so that was the same mentality my coach had, and that was the same mentality I had, and I still had three more weeks until the race was going to be there. Track and field, the relays, are the last couple days, and so I wanted to make sure I showed up on that last day of practice and did everything possible to put myself in that position to be one of those four girls.

So here we were two days before the event, and I lie to you not, it was the same exact day that my mom was landing in Beijing, and you were landing in Beijing, David, and I really had to, you know, have a . . . I knew I was going to either have a great conversation and tell you all that I was running or have another conversation and say that I’m not, and so when I got the call to go up into the room where you would go by yourself, they call you in individually. And I sat down, and they just finally say, you know, they were talking, I wasn’t hearing anything, but they just finally said it, and they said, Lewis, you’re running second leg, and I was just so grateful and just really grateful and just understood that every single thing that I did added up. Like, the consistency of my actions, the consistency of my faith, the consistency of the hard work, it really added up, and it was the sum of all of my effort.

You know, input equals output, and in that moment, it just was a reflection of everything that I put into hearing those words said to me, and so I was able to have an amazing conversation with David, with my mom, and with everybody that, you know, I was actually running, but no one had any idea what that last month was for me to get to that place.

Jamie Martin

Wow, that’s a lot for you to kind of hold for yourself and just be pushing yourself. I mean, I wrote down three Cs there. The consistency, the commitment, and the cumulative effort. That, to me, seems like those three things really helped to move you towards that point where you got that message that like, yes, I’m running.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Yes.

Jamie Martin

And you had a pretty iconic moment. I think you were on the cover of TIME, right, a shot of you? Is that right?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

It was on the cover of USA Today.

Jamie Martin

USA Today. OK.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Yes. It was the cover of USA Today, and you know, we were supposed to . . . it was going to be between us and Jamaica, and relays. You know, Jamaica, that was the Olympic games where Usain Bolt came out breaking the records. The Jamaican women, they swept the podium in the 100 metres, and so we were having a really bad Olympic Games as a federation regarding the medal count, and so we were like, OK, the relays is one area that, you know, we could typically count on a medal.

But we just have to get this stick around the track, because with the U.S., the thing is, is that you never know who the fastest women are because it changes from year to year sometimes. In other countries, the top four girls are usually consistently the same over a few years. In the U.S., you have the top eight finalists, you know, in the Olympic trials, could all be the top finalists at the Olympic Games sometimes, and so it switches.

So when we were practicing, we didn’t know the order for sure of who was going to run. Like I said, I didn’t know I was ever running until two days. So we only had one practice with the team the day before the event of knowing exactly what order, who was running for sure, and I think that had issue with just, you know, our chemistry, and so when we went out there, the men ran first, and they dropped the baton from three to four, and we’re like, oh my goodness, that’s not the kind of motivation we want.

And so now, you know, it’s our turn. I remember walking out into the stadium, and that moment you think about when you’re a little girl. You know, Kisha and I talk about it was really here. You know, two years before that, I was sitting down in New York City in a cubicle thinking I was living my best life, and I was at that time, and now two years later, I was one of four women in the United States representing our country at the Olympic games in the 4×100 metre relay, and so it was unreal, surreal. I was so many emotions.

Like, gratitude, and it was a lot, and so I got my position and I was second leg on the backstretch. The gun goes off, and Angie’s coming around the turn, and then she passed me the baton, and I’m like, alright, I’m going. So we’re in lane two. I’m just like, I want to pass everybody. So I’m passing three. I’m passing four. I’m passing five. I’m getting to my next teammate, and I remember Torri put her hand back, and I’m like, I just got to get her the stick. She takes the stick. I’m like, my job is done. So we’re coming around the bend.

Torri’s in the lead, and I’m like, alright, Torri, we got this. We get to the same zone that the men didn’t complete the pass, and we do the exact same thing, and the women are DQ. We drop the baton from three to four. Men and women DQ’d. First time ever in the Olympic Games, and so that was what we were on the cover for the next day. I was walking off the track, and Torri was in a state of shock, and so I remember she was telling me that I can’t move, and we were having this conversation.

It was just the two of us left on the track in front of 90 thousand people, and we’re having this most intimate moment in front of everybody, and I’m like, you know, it goes from me being, oh, I’m so mad. Oh, I’m so disappointed, into thinking about Torri in this moment that she will have forever, and I wanted to be there for her in that, and so I remember I lifted her up, and her full body dead weight was in my arms, and that was the picture that they used in the USA Today the next day, and it said USA bobbles the relays.

Jamie Martin

But regardless of that headline — and you know, I work on headlines on magazines all the time — but the compassion, the connection that you guys had, I mean, that matters in that teamwork. I would love to have seen David in the stands, like, as you were going.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh, let’s hear it from your perspective.

David Freeman

Well, I always tell Chelle, I see things before they happen, and she, like, laughs at me when I say it. I had a gut feeling because just everything seemed so good as far as what I was seeing from the handoffs, and it could’ve been literally . . . Lauryn could’ve looked back and just took the baton because the lead was big enough for them just to get the baton around and just get first place in that quarter finals, right?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Semi-finals.

David Freeman

Semi-finals. I’m sorry. So I saw it happen before it happened. Like, I literally saw it happen before it happened, and the feeling, obviously, was an empty one because I know how bad Chelle and the whole USA team wanted that, but I always say it’s blessings within every lesson as far as what comes next, and now that she was able to go through the experience that she went through over the course of those two years, and now she has that experience and it can grow into something greater, and to speak from that experience, that leads us to how we’re about to pass the baton to TrackGirlz.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Successfully pass the baton. I will say it now before we do that is that, you know, my mom called my sister immediately and went, like, they dropped the baton, and the first question Kisha asked was, like, was it Chelle? And so that was the main thing. She was like, was it Chelle? My mom was like, no, but you know, you still have to live with that as a team of not being successful.

But our teammates are still close to this day. Whenever we see each other, we always have that common bond of that experience and our love for the sport. So, yeah, my whole track and field experience, from high school through college through, you know, a professional and Olympic athlete has been a blessing to me, and that’s been, again, like what David said, how I can transition into my vision for what is now called TrackGirlz.

Jamie Martin

So tell us about it. I want to know how it started and what your vision and mission is.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Yeah. So, you know, I’ve been called a track girl my whole life, you know, since we were in high school. It was always like, there go the track girls. You know, every high school, you always have your little groups, and we were the track girls, and the track girls are a real community. You know, when you think about a track girl . . . when you see someone that runs track and field, they just have, you know, a certain look or aura about them.

So being a marketer and someone in brands, I just feel that essence of what a track girl was, and so I wanted to make it a brand, and so after I finished running in the Olympics, I retired about two years later after having a back injury, and so I went back into marketing and working at different ad agencies as we were moving to different states, you know, with David and Life Time, and so while we were in Arizona, I was working at an ad agency there, and you know, I was thinking about track and field still.

And I was like, you know, it’s really hard for me to continue on and just work in advertising and have no influence in a sport that changed my life to the degree that it did, and so I wanted to change that, and I just started to combine the two. I started to breathe life into seeing TrackGirlz as a brand, and you know, one of the things that was happening is that during that time at the agency, some of my colleagues, I was asking them, like, why don’t you have any track and field athletes on your roster of athletes?

And they were like, well, track and field athletes aren’t relevant beyond Olympic years, and so I’m like, man, I know so many amazing track and field athletes, women as influences, smart, talented women, and I’m like, we should know more about them, and so how can I create that platform and show the influence that TrackGirlz can have and you know, share their stories and their impact?

So that’s when I was like, you know what, David, I’m going to quit my job and start TrackGirlz, and you know, one thing about David I really appreciate to this day is that he said, OK, and he didn’t ask me anything about the business model or how we’re going to bring in money, but I didn’t even have those answers, so I’m glad he didn’t ask me, but again, it’s all about, again, I had the vision of it.

The same way I had the vision about making that Olympic team is the way I had this vision, and you know, my whole mission was I want to give girls access to track and field, and with that, that comes sisterhood, that comes empowerment. You know, track and field is one of the top sports for girls at the high school and the middle school ages. It’s at the collegiate level, as well, and it’s one of the sports that gives the most girls the most access to higher education.

The friendships that are developed, the travel you do around the world, and so I wanted to be that access point. The same thing my mother instilled in me from when I was a young girl that made that really important for us to discover who we are and for us to reach our full potential, I wanted to make sure that I gave that same access point to girls to use the sport as an access point to helping them figure out, you know, who they are and develop it in sport and outside of sport.

David Freeman

Yeah, to give context behind there were no questions asked, I was drawn already, I was drawn, obviously, this is my wife, I’m drawn to the mindset, I’m drawn to the individual, and I saw what happened nine years prior, too, when this individual ended up saying I’m quitting my job to pursue the Olympics. So when she says I’m quitting my job to start TrackGirlz, I understand. I’m willing to roll the dice there because I know . . . I’m going to take a page out of your book just now. The consistency, commitment, and cumulative effort of what’s going to happen when she puts that in. So thank you, we’re going to take that, Jamie, and just knowing that the core values of what she can bring to the table and being able to see the impact, the influence, she’s already said it, the highest participatory sport in the world for females, and to see that she’s touched so many different women across the world, from South Africa, to Minnesota, Texas, Arizona. And in this infant stage, people starting their own business, this is five years ago, essentially, and we’ve had different conversations about the business plan since then, but that’s the beautiful part about it, is that grind and the cumulative effort, and a lot of those things are paying off now. So, with all that being said, when you look at your core values as an individual, how does it relate to the core values of what TrackGirlz is?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

I know, and sometimes, you know, when I think about TrackGirlz, when I think about myself, it’s hard to separate the two because it’s like, I am TrackGirlz. Like, it’s a part of who I am. Like, it came out of, you know, me, and so when I think about the core values of track and field, I always think about my journey, and so I take them along a process, and you know, one being self-expression and authenticity, and with track and field, you know, track and field’s that sport that always embraces, you know, allowing you to be who you are.

I mean, you can come in and find something to do. You could run short. You could run long. You can jump. You can jump over a bar or without holding a pole or into the sand. You can throw, and so it welcomes all different body types and different perspectives of feeling strong and showing who you are and embracing who you are. So always start with that, you know, and even with myself, like, saying you want to start with your authentic self. You know, so I take them through that process of being able to identify their core values and making them identify when are you your happiest, your strongest?

So authenticity, self-expression, you know, one of our core values that’s important to me, as well, and then we go into vision, of course, because once you understand who you are, then all your choices, everything you see for yourself, you can always reset and test your direction by making sure everything is aligned to your core values, to your true self, to things that matter the most to you, and so that’s when we go into vision.

Setting out those goals that align to their purpose and bringing who they see themselves as to life. From there, we talk about the commitment and the excellence, you know, and the details, because when you think about when I moved to North Carolina, and that was that next consistency, discipline, commitment, and so that’s when we go into that core value, understanding, like, every single day, your choices you make matters.

You know, you’re either moving forward or you’re moving backwards. So helping the girls really understand their everyday choices, their everyday actions, and making sure they’re in tempo every day, and so we talk about that. We also go into poise, and I always say this because I first heard that word in my high school basketball coach, and she would say remain poised, and I’d be like, what is she talking about? But then, you know, I started to understand what poise was, you know, self-control.

And I remember in first grade, I always had this report card. Mechelle lacks self-control. So I’m like, I got to have this control, and so I get it what poise is. You know, being composed, trusting the work you put in, and keeping your composure, because you have those different methods in your mind of when you face a challenge. Then you’re consistent because you tell yourself everybody impossible is nothing. I can do all things. No one performing against me is going to prosper.

So when you have that and you’re consistent with that, then you’re able to keep your poise and your composure because you can say that to yourself, and you can trust yourself, and so I give them that so they understand, you know, the things that they’re pouring into themselves, how it allows them to keep their control. So you have to beat those areas on a consistent basis so that you have those methods to use to keep your composure, and then the last thing we talk about, and not the last, but one of the main things we want to instill in the girls is unity.

And that’s when we talk about sisterhood and a community and helping, you know, build legacies, helping them understand how to empower others and impact others and build systems and help everybody grow, help everybody see, help everybody do, and that’s what the cycle of life is, and so I take them through that process, and so, like you said, the core values that are instilled in TrackGirlz are important core values for myself, as well.

Jamie Martin
OK, and you’ve been doing this for five years now?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman
Yes.

Jamie

Do you have a favorite story of the impact of what you’ve been doing so far with TrackGirlz, like an example of just one thing that just resonates and you think about it? It’s like, this is why I do what I do.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh my goodness. I mean, things come together in different ways. There’s different, you know, stories that you have, but my first time really traveling and going out of the country, we went to South Africa, and it just goes back to, like, the stories of when David, he’s like, oh, I don’t really know my business model, but I’ll let you do it because you have a vision.

I just want to say a little bit that I went through a time where I was like, oh, I can’t do this anymore because I just pour everything out, and money comes out and everything like that, but no one really sees it or understands it. I mean, you’re talking about you’re in that time of grind of, like, getting everybody to understand. You’re just talking about TrackGirlz all the time. You’re talking about what you see, what it can become. You’re pitching to everybody all the time, and it really was, like, no one was getting it, and then I just had my kids, and I found out I was pregnant when I left my job when I said I was going to start TrackGirlz, like, the next week.

So I was like, oh my goodness, what did I just do? So, you know, it was times that you were pouring out so much, and you weren’t getting anything in return that you got discouraged, and I really didn’t know who I was sometimes because I was pouring so much into raising the kids, that you really didn’t get to see your vision come to life as soon as you wanted it to, but you know, when I was in South Africa one time in particular, in 2018, we were able to do a camp in Johannesburg and a camp in Cape Town, South Africa, and I remember sitting down and seeing — we had over 130 kids. Some were barefoot, and some, you know, just . . . they were just happy to be there. They were dancing. We were laughing. We were doing track. We were, you know, just in South Africa, doing something that I said I was going to do that came as a spark of an idea, and I just remember that moment of just being, again, grateful that it was really tangible now, and I remember saying, like, wow, I’m in South Africa and bringing this to a girl right now that’s miles and miles away from where I come from, and it’s still giving them impact.

David Freeman

Well, I mean, you’re a Jill of all trades. So we know, obviously, once an Olympian, always an Olympian, business owner as far as with TrackGirlz, and you’re also USA Track and Field Relay coach, and since the whole pandemic, I know you were already having a relationship with the Olympic Committee, but also you coach through an Olympic experience with Airbnb. So can you take us through a little bit as far as what you do with USA Track and Field and also your Airbnb experiences that you’ve been doing?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Right. So, since I stopped running, I always thought, like I said, I was going to go back to ad agency life, have my corner office, go back to my vision from Boomerang days, but you know, again, once I started getting back into it, I was like you know, how do I mix the two? And I always said I was not going to coach. I was like, I’m not going to coach because I just felt like that was the obvious thing that I would do, and I was like, I can do a lot of things.

I’m not going to just coach, but coaching has changed my life, and I would say that I got a call out the blue the same year that I said I was quitting my job to start TrackGirlz. I got a call from USA Track and Field asking me if I was interested in coming on board to lead the national teams for the relay program as, you know, showing a woman in leadership to help guide the relay teams, and so I was like, wait, this is a random day that I’m getting a call like this, and you’re asking me to do what?

And so I was super excited, and I was like, of course I would do that. So as quick as I said that I wasn’t going to ever coach, here I was as a coach, and so from 2015, I’ve been traveling on different national teams, junior teams, senior teams. I get to work with the best athletes from the high school level and then all the way up to the elite ages, and it’s been a blessing to just be able to pour into the women and the men.

I work with the men, as well, and we’re able to, you know, coach them. It’s something that I’m really good at. I’m really good at the relays, and so now someone saw that I’m also not just coaching the relays, but as a leader for the group, and so hoping we get to end up in Tokyo next year, and you know, going through this pandemic this year, I was having a crazy busy year with the Olympic trials.

We were going to Kenya for World Junior Championships, and of course, the Olympic Games in Tokyo. So, next year, we’ll see what the year will look like, but I’m hoping that, you know, we can get back on the track as a county and as a global event for us to be able to put things on past the pandemic, and then with Airbnb, you know, speaking of the pandemic, it was an Olympic year originally for 2020.

So the International Olympic Committee partnered with Airbnb to . . . they have what they call experiences, and so they really want, you know, people to come in and people who travel or even locals to have the opportunity to come and book, like, whatever experiences people create, whether that’s a cooking class or reading a children’s book and workouts and things like that, and so they wanted to give an opportunity for Olympians to create their own experiences for people to book one-on-one opportunities, and so I signed up to do it, and the pandemic happened.

And so they asked me if I was interested in turning it into an online experience, and so I was like, of course, and so I created this Mind and Body Masterclass of doing a track and field inspired workout, and you know, a hit format, and so we’re doing circuit-style strength training, and of course, we got some running in it and stuff like that in place, but it’s fun, but I also do a mind portion of where I take them through my Olympic journey, and we take them on that roadmap on how to really set intentions for themselves.

Jamie Martin

I feel like we just got a little preview of what that was like through this whole conversation.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Oh, it is. You got it for free.

Jamie Martin

I love it. It’s so great. I want to acknowledge, because, I mean, obviously, you’ve mentioned you guys are married. You have two young kids, and balancing it all for both of you, because, David, you and I are connected on a regular basis. Mechelle, I see you from afar as well. How do you guys balance it all with raising those two beautiful children of yours?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Man, it’s no right answer, you know, that just blankets it for everyone. I look at it as, you know, you have different areas that you have in your life. You have, you know, work. You have family, and then you have your household. Like, you know, just making sure your house is clean, you’re cooking, and things like that, and so when I look at it like that every day, I’m like, OK, out of these three things, one day, one will be a priority, and then the other day, something else will be the priority.

So one day, you know, I’m having a great meal, and the house is clean, but I didn’t do as much work, and I got to spend, you know, a good amount of time with my family and the kids and everything like that, but the next day, I might feel guilty because we’re eating Chick-fil-A, and I didn’t play with the kids at all, but I had, you know, all-day meetings. I got a lot of stuff done in work, and so you have to just give yourself that space to, like, move things around.

Let the triangle turn and twist a little, and know that something that may be a priority one day won’t be a priority the next day, and David is just as active. So, you know, we’re doing lives at the same time on Instagram, and we’re taking meetings at the same time, and I think what this pandemic has done has given people the opportunity to accept the flexibility of people and their schedules and work and life and just knowing that everything isn’t just black and white.

It’s going to be an area that’s gray, and it’s OK to have gray areas in work and life and how everything operates, and so I do think that came out of the pandemic, which David and I have been able to just work together, continue to support one another, like we always do, but at this same time, you know, hold each other accountable to make sure we are pouring into each of those areas to keep the flow of the triangle just operating and as balanced as best as we can day-to-day.

David Freeman

Yeah, I would agree. Chelle always laughs at me because I’m huge on communication. When I say communication is key, so just knowing what each other needs and trying to be there for one another is key. I’ve made it my number one priority as far as to be the best husband and best father that I can be for my family. So that’s my number one priority.

So regardless of how much work or how high of a pay something may be, I always say that my family’s my foundation, and they’re the reason I’m doing what it is that I am doing. So keeping that at the forefront and knowing, once again, what our core values are when you look at faith, family, and that leads to fortune, and we don’t necessarily mean financial gains when we say fortune. It could be the wealth of happiness that we have with one another. So that’s the balancing act that we continue to work together on.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

But I agree, David, communication. You got to have a schedule, and David, like, you know, he has come a long way when it comes to . . . he was so hyper-focused on work. You were, what, 22 when we were together, and before kids, you know, you’re hyper-focused on yourself. You’re hyper-focused on work, and so it takes time to transition into getting away from that hyper-focusing, coming up with that triangle balance.

And so David has come a long way, and he’s amazing with the triangle, as well, as far as focusing on family or work or you know, just communicating, and so this day, he has the drop-off with the kids. This day, I have the drop-off. This day, he has to pick up, and so we really have a system that I think is important. You got to have some type of system, some type of loose structure to make sure you guys are operating efficiently and supporting each other.

Jamie Martin

Absolutely, and every household is slightly different, so giving yourself some grace in that space to just, like, it’s never going to be perfect. We’re working on this, but talking about it and having that open communication. Another C. There you go. Alright, David, I think it’s time for your favorite part — well, the favorite way to end an episode, I should say.

David Freeman

Yes. Well, since this is my wife, I’m going to do a nice little special shout-out as far as her being a daughter, a sister, a wife, an aunt, a mother, an Olympian, a CEO, a track coach for USA, and then a virtual celebrity, I’m going to say as well, right? So, with all those things, you know, that you hold daily, it’s been a pleasure to be in a front row and seeing exactly what you have done over these years since knowing you. So I appreciate you. What do you want to leave our listeners with if you have one thing? And this is our power minute. We do this at the end of every episode. So what would be the one thing you want to leave our listeners with?

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Wow, I will have to say, you know, really take the time to operate in your full self, you know, being authentic to yourself, staying true to yourself. You were made who you are, and you were given the qualities of who you are so you can fulfill the things you were meant to do. So if you ever need to, like, reset or if you ever need to figure out what’s next for yourself, go back to thinking about where am I strongest? Where am I my happiest? When do I feel like I’m my most impactful, and really think about the things about what makes you who you are, and as long as you stay true to that, whatever the result that comes from that, you can be confident in knowing that this is what it is supposed to be because this is who I am.

Jamie Martin

And that’s a beautiful way to end things. Mechelle, thank you for coming on the podcast and sharing your story with us and with all of our listeners.

Mechelle Lewis Freeman

Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.

[Music]

David Freeman
Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?

Jamie Martin 
And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us, too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life, or reach out to us on Instagram at @lifetime.life@jamiemartinel, or @freezy30 and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at thesource.lifetime.life/podcasts.

David Freeman 
And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Feel free to write a review and also let others know about it, too. Take a screenshot of the episode and share it on social, share it with your friends, family, work buddies, life coach. You get the gist.

Jamie Martin 
Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

[Music]

Jamie Martin

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins and sound consulting by Coy Larson. A big thank you to the team who pulls each episode together and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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