Brittney Reese poses for pictures after speaking with children through the U.S. Olympic Committee's Team for Tomorrow community outreach program on May 4, 2016 in Chula Vista, Calif.
CHULA VISTA, Calif. – Many of the kids listening to Brittney Reese talk about her athletic career weren’t entirely sure who she is or what the Olympic Games are.
The boys and girls, in kindergarten through sixth grade at Leonardo da Vinci Health Sciences Charter School, had gathered Wednesday afternoon to hear the Olympic long jump champion speak to them about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle in her role as an ambassador for the United States Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow program.
The younger ones, especially, had trouble explaining what types of sports are in the Games or pinpointing where on the globe this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be held.
But when they watched a video of Reese jumping at the London 2012 Olympic Games — where she won a gold medal — and at the recent world indoor championships (also where she won gold), there were gasps of amazement and delight as they watched her fly nearly 24 feet.
And when one student asked if she’d ever won a gold medal, she smiled and held up seven fingers, explaining she had six world championship victories to go with her London win.
That was met with more ooohs and aaahs and more follow-up questions about how she trains, what she eats, where she’s traveled and why she was screaming in the video after landing a winning jump.
“That was just me celebrating,” she said, which prompted another question:
When she wins again, will she do The Dab?
Reese laughed, as she did often during her time with the kids. The students watched short videos about the upcoming Games in Brazil and her jump highlights, listened to her speak and then went out to the field to do exercises and some physical challenges with her before she gave all of them autographs and posed for pictures.
She spent nearly an hour at the school, which isn’t too far from the U.S. Olympic Training Center where she trains and is getting ready for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials that will be held July 1-10 in Eugene, Oregon.
The two-time Olympian was selected to Team for Tomorrow in April, so this was her first chance to be an ambassador.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” she said after the event. “I’m really involved back at home (in Mississippi) with the kids. I go to Boys & Girls Clubs and things like that, and for them to pick me to be an ambassador was really cool. I enjoyed every moment of it (today).”
She especially liked their wide-ranging questions, many which made her smile.
“The funny one was, ‘Do you like coconut milk?’” she said. “That was like the cutest little question.”
Reese spent much of her time explaining how she must be healthy to do what she does.
“It’s a job,” she said. “You have to take care of yourself, eat right and sleep right to do your best.”
She explained how she eats lots of fruits and vegetables and stays hydrated to be able to fuel herself properly for as much as 2½ hours per day of training. She also gets plenty of rest and takes care of her body with massages and visits to the chiropractor and acupuncturist.
She wasn’t much older than they are, she said, when she decided in the seventh grade to go out for track and field, which eventually led her to dream about being an Olympian. At first, she thought she’d be an Olympic basketball player. Later, she excelled in track and field, where she was an NCAA long jump champion at Ole Miss.
She went to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where she was fifth in the long jump, before winning in London.
“That was a dream come true to me,” she told the students.
She said she hopes the kids were able to understand it’s important to pay attention to their health and fitness and that it takes a lot of work to succeed.
“I think that’s pretty important for them to understand,” she said.
Reese met with the children of the school’s FLASH (Fun Leonardo da Vinci After School Hours) program, a partnership between the charter school and the South Bay Family YMCA. The daily program provides after-school activities for students in grades K-6.
As part of Reese’s appearance, Team for Tomorrow donated a variety of sports equipment to the YMCA.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.