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Tenacious 9-year-old wins AAU Junior Olympic gold medal in high jump

September 21, 2017

In track and field season, Shawn Church Jr. trains up to six days a week.

And the work is worth it for the 9-year-old – last month he became an AAU Junior Olympic gold medalist for the high jump.

The best part?

“I beat my old record,” said the Norfolk youth.

Shawn is a member of Global Transitions Academy, “a youth development program geared towards building track and field athletes’ knowledge and ability in the events of long jump, high jump, triple jump,” and sometimes hurdles, said Marlon Woods, 29, who founded the program.

Shawn signed up because he wanted faster feet for football.

But he became great at track and field, said his father, Shawn Church, 31, a longshoreman who works at Norfolk International Terminals.

When Shawn Jr. started training for track and field, “he was a novice,” his dad said. “He had no coordination.”

But Woods said the youngster had an advantage.

Shawn Jr. is “a student of the sport,” Woods said. “He’s equipped with the mental capacity to continue to grow.”

What that does for an athlete is imperative, Woods said. “It separates you from the rest.”

Athletes who wish to participate in the AAU Junior Olympics are invited to do so after they’ve excelled in district and regional competitions. Shawn Jr. got his first invitation in 2016, when the games were held in Houston.

He didn’t win any medals.

But “if it doesn’t go right, he’ll go do it again and again and again,” said his dad. “He knows that if he does the right thing and trains hard, he’ll get the results.”

This year, he did.

He competed in the long jump, a 100-meter race and the high jump at the games in Detroit.

“He did the long jump and he placed fifth in the nation. He was upset with himself,” his dad said. He finished ninth or 10th in the 100-meter race. “He was kind of down about it.”

Yet, Shawn Jr. and his coach had confidence about the high jump.

“He was the youngest one with us and he looked like the veteran,” Woods said. “There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to win that day. He had it in his head already that he was the best.”

They were right.

“My old record was four foot and my new record is four feet three (inches),” said Shawn Jr., who keeps his gold medal on the fridge at home.

He was happy when he won first place, he said.

So was his dad.

“We put him in these sports, but we don’t force it upon him,” he said. “He takes initiative, because he knows his hard work pays off.”

Arleen Spenceley,

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