It’s exciting when you have the opportunity to share in the Olympic dream. Whether you’re a five-year-old training with an Olympian athlete - Prince Mumba - or a storytelling journalist like myself. It’s both fascinating and comic at the same time how the five-year-old Prince Mumba Track Club students share amongst themselves his latest stats, sometimes disputed at a difference of a second. Their parents take in the conversation too. “He was behind two seconds,” whispers one of the moms who is just as excited to be on the track field.
Beyond the gold medals, there is more that stands out about the Olympic Games. No matter how many times we try to cross the finish line, we are still impressed by its unearthly strength. Prince Mumba tells me about a burning fire in his soul. Together these athletes are a reminder of the torch whose flame keeps our hope alive every four years.
I first met Prince only a few months before the London 2012 Olympic Games. By that time, he had qualified to participate a year in advance. Legendary track coach Joe Douglas of the Santa Monica Track Club, introduced me to the soft spoken, talented athlete. It wasn’t until last month that I fully realized the complexity of Prince Mumba.
His story titled in the media, “From Pauper to Prince,” beloved by his students and community, Prince since has become a friend and inspiration for anyone that he meets. In 2004 he qualified to compete in the Athens Olympics, and in 2012 carried his country’s flag in London. But before it all began, the Pauper Prince with a heart of gold and unimaginable will to live raced his way out of a life that hasn’t always given him the platform to shine.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t have a home or anyone to encourage me. I was abandoned,” Prince tells me. The eleventh child, Prince was born despite several medical complications – his mother, then 48, wasn’t supposed to have children and went through several abortions which he survived. Not having a stable home for many years was the second chapter he had to overcome and understand from a young age. His parents moved to the village and left Prince behind – in order for him to be able to attend school – a gesture for which Prince today is grateful.
I wanted to ask him, that if he could go back in time, what advice would he give his younger self? But we already have the answer. Prince’s value clearly shines through his ability to hang on to his best momentum. He can walk through struggle with his head held up high, without losing sight of goals, dreams and most importantly, of himself. This is what Olympians are made of.
While visiting Zambia he meets an old classmate from school. She runs away from him, embarrassed of saying hello due to the famous status that he’s achieved. Prince chases after her. “Why are you running from me?” he asks. “She then calls me a ‘celebrity,’” says Prince smiling. She tells him that, “when celebrity come, they forget about us. So I don’t want to feel embarrassed.”
“C’mon, I’m still Prince Mumba, so talk to me.”
I couldn’t conclude this story without mentioning Prince’s nutritionist Kevin Libby. He calls Prince a unique humanitarian who will do great things for many people down the road. From working with the likes of Lakers and other noteworthy names, Kevin took the challenge, free of material gain, to become Prince’s much needed nutritional arm on his path to Rio 2016. He also made it possible for Prince to meet sponsor Tim Sykes, a successful stock broker but funny, animated character who teasingly advised Prince, “to break the world record.” And that is what Prince did. In the past weeks he has set new Zambian world records in Brugg, Switzerland for the 600 meters [1:17.20] and respectively Houston for 1000m [2:23:58]. Prince certainly carries a good luck charm of always being in the right place and in company of great people.
He shares with me two of his biggest dreams growing up; to graduate from university and run in the Olympics. Both came true. Today his Prince Mumba Track Club leads the effort to teach running properly, and to students of all ages. In the future he hopes to empower women and children in Zambia.
His physique matches a certain African Olympic ideal, not to exclude two decades of hard work under both the African and American sun. It also matches his wide smile, sparkling eyes and soft, thin voice. When sprinting on track, for a moment in time many of those features fade. The sparkle, however, stays. It’s an enthusiasm for life and focus that always finds a way to get him through each race he runs, be it either on or off the track.
After attending extensive track meets from across the world, Prince would not be running in Rio 2016. He says it would have been his last Olympic Games. Hard to believe for an athlete and trainer who gives the opportunity to people of all ages to share in the Olympic dream every day.