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Following her calling: How Mechelle Lewis Freeman is inspiring the next generation of female athletes

Top photo: Kwaku Alston/

U.S. Olympian and Gamecock track and field sprinter, Mechelle Lewis Freeman ('02, '04), is using her experience as a Gamecock athlete and School of Journalism and Mass Communications student to provide opportunities to young women across the country through the sport of track and field. 

Mechelle Lewis Freeman
Mechelle Lewis Freeman has been named the Head Women’s Relays Coach for the 2024 USA Track & Field Olympic Team ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Freeman, who earned her undergraduate degree in advertising from USC in 2002 while also competing in the track and field program, founded TrackGirlz, a program to give young women across the country access to opportunities through the sport of track and field. Since 2015, the program has grown tremendously, gaining over 40,000 followers on Instagram and being recognized with an ESPN feature story just last year. Through their community programming, TrackGirlz has provided grants, equipment, training, and mentorship to girls pursuing success through track and field. Freeman continues to lead the program and aims to coach young girls to future success in the sport and life beyond.

Freeman said she has used many lessons from her time as a student at USC as well as her nine-month transition “from cubicle to the global stage” after leaving corporate America to pursue her Olympic dream, to lead and inspire young women in the sport.

“I learned so much there (at USC),” Freeman shared. “So many lessons and nuggets that I still remember from professors and people there that still impact my life today.”

Freeman was a senior when USC’s track team claimed the national championship in 2002. This was the first team in any sport to be a national champion at the university.

“Just this past weekend, with [USC Women’s Basketball coach] Dawn Staley and the team winning the national championship, I feel like I’m a part of it all,” said Freeman. “It feels great to be a member of the group that laid that first championship brick and I am forever grateful for that moment. It’s an honor to be a part of a winning legacy that the track and field program set.”

However, track and field would not stay in the equation immediately after that championship.

“It was 2002 and I wanted to train for the upcoming Olympic games in 2004, but I had a nagging injury,” Freeman recalls. “I decided to focus on graduate school.”

After receiving her master’s degree in mass communications from the J-school in 2004, Freeman went on to work in advertising for Y&R, a top advertising agency in New York, first meeting one of their executives at an awards event celebrating Freeman being named one of the American Advertising Federation’s Top 25 most promising minorities upon receiving her bachelor’s in 2002.

“Although I had so many great experiences in many things while an advertising executive, my spark to compete again came while watching my college teammates make the 2004 Olympic and 2005 World Championship teams.” Freeman said. Although she had four years away from the sport, she decided she still wanted to compete in the sport she loved.

“I knew I had the talent, but I didn’t know if I would be able to compete at the professional level, physically and mentally,” Freeman said. “I got inspired to start training again with the 2008 Olympics coming up in just two years.” 

She found immense success in the next couple of years running for USA Track and Field, winning gold in the 4x100 relay at the 2007 World Championships, silver in the 4x100 relay and 100-meter sprint at the 2007 Pan-American Games, and representing the U.S. as a member of the 4x100 relay team in the Beijing 2008 Olympics. 

“After just a nine-month period of full-time training, for me to come back and achieve being a world champion and then go on to become an Olympian the very next year is bizarre,” Freeman remembers as she pulls out a picture of her walking off the track at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. “I always come back to the reality that it could’ve been anybody else, but it was me. I’m so grateful.”

Freeman’s track and field success did not stop at the 2008 Olympic Games. Freeman founded TrackGirlz in 2015 to give girls the opportunity to succeed in track and field through mentorship and sport led by world-class women in track and field.

“When you’re called to something, you respond to it. That’s how I feel about coaching, that’s how I feel about TrackGirlz,” Freeman says. “It’s very fulfilling because I see the impact that it’s had with the grants and exposure we’ve given to the girls. 

TrackGirlz provides monetary grants to support local girls’ track and field programs in addition to facilitating camps, events, and curricula for girls to have access to sport. “We can use this grant in so many ways. A portion of the grant can be used to help defray the cost of the district and regional meets, helping the girls take the next step to the nationals. One airline ticket can change the life of one girl,” said Jean E. Bell, a coach of Jeuness Track Club in New York after receiving a grant for her program from TrackGirlz. “We know that this extra boost will help us to achieve our goals of winning medals on the national stage.”

Freeman credits the “access” to higher education and life changing experiences she was given through sport when she was younger as a motivator for her to give back to those who want to participate in the sport now.

“TrackGirlz is really special because it’s all about giving girls access and exposure” Freeman said about the program. “South Carolina gave me access as well and allowed me to know more and do more.”

In addition to her work leading young women through TrackGirlz, Freeman finds herself being a leader in her own home as the mother of two.

“Oh my gosh, motherhood,” Freeman laughs. “Bayne, my 10-year-old son, humbles me because of how much he cares about people. Harley, my 8-year-old daughter, is a firecracker. She’s sassy, social, bubbly, but she’s a born leader and just wants to go out front and do more.”

Freeman will continue to push the next generation of women and girls that are in track and field. She will be leading the women’s track and field relay teams at the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France this summer and TrackGirlz will be a community partner at the 2024 New York City Marathon in November.

“I take my responsibilities and influence very seriously because I know any moment or interaction can have a real impact for the women and girls that are watching and listening to me.” 

Matt Olivieri

Matt Olivieri

Matt Olivieri wrote this article in Instructor Bertram Rantin's Honors Writing for Mass Communications class. He is a freshman in the Honors College studying broadcast journalism with a minor in business administration. Matt hopes to have a career in sports journalism and media in the future. He is from New York state.


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