Durham fifth-grader Coleman Mitchell Jr. finished 2010 by adding a national cross country championship to his accomplishments.
A Creekside Elementary School student and member of the Durham-based Triangle Champions Track Club, Mitchell won the Bantam (age 10 and younger) Boys Division at the USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships on Dec. 11 at Veterans Park in Hoover, Ala.
He covered the 3K course in 11 minutes, 14 seconds to win by seven seconds, a victory margin that might have produced as much relief as celebration for the young champion after some stressful anticipation.
"I was nervous about it," Mitchell said in a telephone interview Sunday. I was trying to win, and that was a lot of pressure."
He said he stopped feeling nervous "as soon as my race started."
Confidence returned quickly, and after the first loop around the park's lake, a distance of about a half-mile, he said, he was feeling that he could win.
"My strategy was to get out front so that nobody got in the way. After that ... , I just tried to stay out front," he said.
And he did.
To gain his place in the national competition, Mitchell, who will turn 11 in April, won the state championship and then the regional title for North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland.
Mitchell also won state and regional championships in the 400, 800 and 1,500 meters in 2010, and he received All-American status (top-eight) in those events at the USATF Outdoor Track Junior Olympic National Championships in Sacramento, Calif., and at the AAU National Championships a few days later in Norfolk, Va.
Those travels are recorded on a map of the United States. Among the destinations have been California, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Nevada, Mitchell said.
He has earned those trips by learning from his father, C. Donnell Mitchell Sr.
"My dad is the coach of my team, and he runs with me," the son said. "He trained me, and he tells me what to do."
In those pre-race strategy sessions, they discuss the mental aspects of running, including handling a disappointing performance with grace, his mother, Lynnette Mitchell, said via phone on Sunday.
"Triangle Champions tries to emphasize attitude," she said.
When he's not traveling or practicing - three to five miles on weekdays, usually before school, plus a longer run on Saturdays - the young athlete plays league basketball with the Durham Parks and Recreation Department's Durham Hawks. He also is an A-B honor-roll student who serves on the school safety patrol and sings in the school chorus, and he attends Sunday school at Peace Missionary Baptist Church.
The middle brother between Josh, 13, and Blair, 3, Coleman Mitchell said he knows where he gets the energy for his running and other pursuits - it's from having a personality that he doesn't hesitate to describe as "hyper."
"I never do really one thing at once," he said.
He has calm moments, though, when he focuses his energy on books. Lately, he said, he has been reading "The Lost Hero," a fantasy-adventure novel written by Rick Riordan.
Besides his hard work, Mitchell also makes some sacrifices in order to pursue running excellence. He places fried chicken high on his list of favorite foods, but not between races. Mom sees to that.
"My role is to make sure that the diet is right," Lynette Mitchell said, "and that means pasta and chicken all the time -- grilled chicken, not the fried."
Fried chicken remains a treat, though, and the national-title celebration included a visit to Chic-fil-A.
For the rest of the winter, Coleman Mitchell will focus on basketball and less-intense running sessions, his father said. For fun, they might try the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon in February.
That is, if Coleman Mitchell still wants to, said Donnell Mitchell, who strives to keep his son's activities in perspective.
"Whatever we do, we do to the best of our God-Given ability. We have many interests, and if he decides to do something different in the future, it won't be because of burnout but because he chose differently," Donnell Mitchell said via e-mail. "Running is fun for now. Might be basketball later. Either way, we'll enjoy what we have now while it lasts. No guarantee on the future for anything."
The only guarantee may be that his son can cherish a victory that felt more special than his state and regional championships, that challenged his skills and training and desire.
Said Coleman Mitchell, "It was much harder than all the others."
***** Who is the special athlete in your life? Send your recreational sports news to Teri Boggess at email@example.com. ****