There will be a new face in Central Florida cross country and track and field this season. Former Kentucky standout and 2008 Olympian David Freeman is the new head coach at Freedom High School in Orlando. Freeman grew up in South Florida and competed for Hialeah High School where he excelled in the 800 meters; placing third his sophomore season, second his junior season, and winning the state title in his senior year.
"I tell people that was my claim to fame that I won all three medals in high school."
It was that success that led him to the University of Kentucky where he was a three time All-American and SEC Champion at the indoor mile.
"I happened to fall in love with the University of Kentucky. I bought into their program and started winning races. I liked running and the whole mental aspect of it so I started thinking about what I could do to make it a career and make money out of it so I didn't have to go to the real world."
The "little kid from Miami" didn't have to go to the real world just yet. Freeman began to run professionally and ultimately fulfilled a dream come true when he represented his native Puerto Rico in the 2008 Olympics.
"I ran the 1500 and I came in either 26th or 29th overall. It's an unbelievable honor and a blessing. It's everything you've ever wanted and dreamed of as an athlete. Having that Puerto Rico across my chest was humbling. That opening ceremony just gives me chills which is the same feeling when I first stepped on that track. You just live for that moment. My whole running career, my hopes and desires, were all towards the Olympics, and once you made it you're considered one of the best. I enjoyed the moment when I was there and took it all in, went for it, and gave it all I had."
The title of State Champion, SEC Champion, and Olympian are all important chapters of Freeman's life, but now his focus has shifted as he wears the title of coach. Freeman spent 2004-2007 as a volunteer coach for the Gators and then from 2007-2009 in the same capacity at his alma mater the University of Kentucky. It was then he fell in love with coaching.
"I wanted to give back to the sport that helped me a whole lot. I started at a high school in Kentucky that really wasn't known for running and I happened to be blessed with kids who bought into my system and believed in their ability. Last year our girls' track team placed second in the state which was the highest finish in school history. That was the highlight of my career so far, but if you are from Florida, you are a Florida boy at heart.
So Freeman set his eyes on teaching and coaching positions in the Sunshine State. He came across Freedom High School and was sold on their academic and athletic vision. He felt like the two were a good fit and that he could make a positive impact on the Patriot's program.
"I am middle distance guy, but I don't like to classify myself like that. I just say I am a runner. I try to relate that in my coaching style that anything is truly possible as long as you stick with it and believe in the system. I try to do everything first class. If you treat the athletes first you'd be surprised how they respond. I tell them as a team they are building something and have to start somewhere. Tradition has to start somewhere. It starts out by dreaming big, thinking big, and believing in the system."
Freeman has not had the opportunity to work out with his team. He says that will start when practice officially kicks off August 15th. In the meantime, he has been reaching out to returning athletes, prospective runners, as well as the parents. When the time comes he to hit the trails he has several workouts in mind including tempo runs, fartlecks, hill workouts, and longer repeats. He says he rarely focuses on speed because it will eventually come.
"You can never catch up in your strength work though. Well maybe do an eight mile split run; run stead pace for a mile, then run race pace, then more steady pace, and finally finish at race pace so they get the different variation of how a race might turn out. I try to get those workouts and the mileage in so they can get their endurance up. We need to make sure they last all year."
He admits that he has various emotions heading into the season; nervous, excited, and scared. All three might be expected from a new coach at a new school. Freeman believes he will have the talent to build a successful team, but it's getting the kids to buy into the program. It is a program that the former Olympian says he plans to use his past experiences to build credibility.
"It's very important I share with them my past because they believe in what we're doing. They say this guy was successful in track and field and made it to the Olympics, maybe we should listen to him. To some a successful season is all about winning and losing, but it's not about that. It's about bettering the student athlete. As long as they are better than they were last year or yesterday that is what's important. The goal is for these kids to have fun and teach reach their full potential even if it's setting a new PR. My motto is to be better every single day."