It’s Sunday afternoon and four little athletes meet to practice running on the grand Corsair Field, once the starting point for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic marathons. They are here to train with track athlete Prince Mumba. To them he is the Olympic epitome, the gold medal they have seen on television. They emulate Prince’s footsteps. These five to seven year olds aren’t sure what running is or why they love it. Their goal is to have fun racing on the track, and as a perk, follow Prince Mumba on his road to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
In return, to Prince these young athletes are a source of energy, sometimes the reason which keeps him training. When the Prince Mumba Track Club class finishes, at his direction, they line up to receive medals and trophies. “Is this real gold?” asks five-year-old Davio Sokolov, whose mother shares that he mainly comes to practice because of Prince. Their Olympian role model awards them with gold medals around their necks. For a moment Prince too can see the reflection of his dream that began almost two decades ago: to one day sit up on the Olympic podium and receive a medal of his own.
Upon first meeting Prince most people assume he is Zambian royalty. But it’s Prince Mumba that naturally resonates and makes a notable first impression. Today, tired from training, his expressive brown eyes still sparkle. His curled black eyelashes veil a lifetime of dreams, hard work, success and struggle. Prince mentions a burning desire to race for gold in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“It’s my life,” he says.
Going back to the starting line, Prince discovered running after a middle school teacher made him run laps around the track for being mischievously silly in class. He took off effortlessly, was fast and liked it too. At that point his athletic dream rekindled, repairing a past soccer knee injury that stopped him from playing the sport.
“I was eight and I thought, one day I would like to be in the Olympics,” says Prince. “I’m going to be among those athletes. I just had that strong feeling in my heart.”
That strong feeling carried him through many hard times that followed. With eight siblings that didn’t necessarily take the place of his parents, alone in the world, many times Prince spent his days on the streets of Lusaka, Zambia; sometimes hungry and cold. Times like these pushed him to the limit of desperation. He often asked himself, “what am I going to do? Nobody cares to look for me. I’m on the streets. What am I going to do?”
But the Prince whose mother wished he was a girl and that survived tremendous medical miracles to win his right to be alive, track running and academics were a window of opportunity; a race of out of Africa to America. After participating in the 2002 Commonwealth Games and World Junior Championships in Athletics, he was recruited by Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There he was an All American track stand out and awarded in the university’s hall of fame.
Winning in 10 conference championships for six different events over his four-year career was just the beginning of his accomplishments. During his sophomore year he qualified for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and again in 2012 for the London Olympic Games. Prince was invited to be his country’s flag carrier during the opening ceremony.
“Once you make the final, anything can happen. I’m going for the gold. Anytime I’m in a race, I go to win,” says Prince.
Less than a month away, all of his efforts are now invested into reaching the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. His goal is simple, fast and ambitious: 800 meters, 1 minute and 44 seconds. With a $10,000 sponsorship from the Tim Sykes Foundation, the guidance of Kevin Libby’s nutrition expertise and training of renowned track Coach Joe Douglas whom he embraces like a father figure, this time Prince has a team behind him. When Libby first began working with Prince most of his testing was at a civilian number level. “You have a person like Prince with a God’s given talent. But you can’t find that six gear without proper nutrition. Once we unlock that, the sky is the limit,” says Libby. There is a whole science that keeps an athlete running at the elite level: regular testing, nutrition and encouragement are all part of it. “Nutrition is very emotional,” says Libby. “It’s not just about fueling for sport.”
This April and after 40 years, Vice President of Zambia Inonge Wina returned to Santa Monica College as a Distinguished Alumni. Among the many people that she met with was Prince. Unware of his own celebrity, he was amazed and honored that his native country’s Vice President would chat with him. But it’s not her title that had him star struck. He admires Vice President Wina for her work with women’s rights and would like to one day join her in the struggle to empower Zambia’s communities, especially women and children.
“Prince is a unique humanitarian that deserves a gold medal,” says Kevin. “He has a unique, humble soul.”
One doesn’t have to travel as far as Zambia to feel Prince’s love for sport and people. The Prince Mumba Track Club, one of the unique [track and field] youth clubs in Los Angeles, encourages students as young as three years old to enjoy the sport of running. He wants to train students, coaches, athletes and people from all walks of life that running, when approached correctly, it becomes a lifestyle rather than a struggle to the finish line.
With the spirit of a child’s heart and determination of an Olympian athlete, Prince Mumba already stands out in many people’s hearts as a gold medalist. “I think that if you ask a dozen people about Prince, they will all answer similarly,” says Libby. “He’s going to do great things for many down the road.”
Photography Credits by FIORELLA OCCHIPINTI and DIAMONDS MIRROR – Starring ATHLETE PRINCE MUMBA and THE PRINCE MUMBA TRACK CLUB STUDENT ATHLETES – and PERFORMANCE FITNESS CONCEPTS NUTRITIONIST KEVIN LIBBY, COACH JOE DOUGLAS, STYLIST INKA SHERMAN and THE TIMOTHY SYKES FOUNDATION