Among the many young athletes from across the nation competing in the upcoming AAU Junior Olympic Games is a Paducah Middle School student who finished fourth in the nation in the 100-meter dash in last year's games.
Jayden Freeman, 13, will begin seventh grade at Paducah Middle School in the fall. Freeman is a member of Wings of Skill Youth Track Club, and he's currently ranked first in Tennessee and Kentucky in the triple jump, with a jump of 40 feet, 4 inches.
"It feels good," Freeman said of the achievement. "My coach has been teaching me a lot about triple jumping. I started last year, and I think I got a little bit better at it this year."
This year at the AAU Junior Olympic Games, Freeman will compete in the 100-meter dash, the 4x400 meter relay and the triple jump. His favorite event is the 100 because "I like getting out of the box faster than all my other events."
But that doesn't mean he puts any less effort into the other events. His mother, Melissa Williams, said he's going into the games with first place qualifying wins in each.
Williams said it's exciting to see her son do so well, and the proud mom noted that he also qualified for the USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Texas.
She said because there is overlap between the two events - the AAU games will be held in Des Moines from July 27 through Aug. 2 and the USATF's will be held in Humble, Texas from July 21 through July 27 - Freeman had to choose between the two. Freeman said he is eager to return to the AAU Junior Olympic Games.
"I'm excited that I get to meet more people and have fun with Junior Olympics and with the games," he said.
But meeting fellow athletes from across the country, while fun, is not the reason Freeman has - as Williams noted - spent his summer vacation competing in track meets.
"All I really want is to win, and do it for my family," Freeman said. "When I get out of the box, all I think about is finishing the race. That's all I want to do."
To help him reach that goal, Williams is looking to the community for help.
"This trip to Iowa is really expensive," Williams explained, so she set up a Facebook page encouraging people to make donations to assist with the cost.
Williams has also arranged donation drop-off spots in Paducah: the Wendy's in Lone Oak, Master Ke's Barber shop at 1300 Park Ave., Harrison Street Missionary Baptist Church and Taylor Made Barber Shop at 1301 Schneidman Road.
Williams said those with questions about making a donation can visit the Facebook page - Donations for Jayden FREEMAN's trip to AAU JR Olympics - for more information.
Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.