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Nine-year-old Malcolm Thomas Jr. recently jumped his way to fourth place in the long jump for his age group at the 2007 USA Track and Field Junior Olympics in California. "It's fun doing sports," said Thomas, whose mom is stationed at RAF Lakenheath. "Especially when you win."
Nine-year-old Malcolm Thomas Jr. recently jumped his way to fourth place in the long jump for his age group at the 2007 USA Track and Field Junior Olympics in California. "It's fun doing sports," said Thomas, whose mom is stationed at RAF Lakenheath. "Especially when you win." (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

UK weekly edition, Wednesday, August 15, 2007

LAKENHEATH — When they reach the top, most athletes tell the same story of long hours of training, a driving hunger to succeed and a discovery of this passion at an early age.

Malcolm Thomas Jr. might just be starting on his own version of that path.

The 9-year-old took fourth place in his age group in the long jump competition at the USA Track and Field’s Junior Olympics last month. About 40 children from 16 regions in the country competed, and the meet required Malcolm and his father to travel repeatedly to the States for qualifiers.

For his efforts, Malcolm received a medal that he’s been loathe to put down since returning from the event late last month.

He wore it all the way home from California, his father, Malcolm Thomas Sr., said.

“I had to wash it because he was eating with it,” said his mother, Tech. Sgt. Sheryl Thomas, who is stationed at RAF Lakenheath.

The road to the Junior Olympics wasn’t easy for the youngster. Coached by his father, he practiced nearly every day to get himself ready.

“He said he wanted to be a pro athlete when he was 5 years old,” the father said. “He’s got that special talent.”

Despite his latest achievement, Malcolm has his sights set on playing football. He started track events to get better at football.

“This isn’t my main sport,” he said, smiling.

He posted a jump of 4.52 meters at last month’s competition, and said that pacing and spacing the steps he takes before jumping is the hardest thing about the long jump.

And despite the costs of flying to the States in the middle of summer, Sheryl Thomas said it’s a sacrifice the family is willing to make.

“It wasn’t his fault we got re-assigned,” she said. “If our summer vacations are going to be him competing, that’s what we’re going to do, as long as he gets good grades.”

And while Malcolm’s father coaches him — because there aren’t many organized options for such sports at the age of 9 — Sheryl Thomas said there’s no pressure on her son to compete.

“He plays because he likes to do it,” she said. “If it’s not fun anymore, he’ll want to do something else.”

So Malcolm is setting out on his own athletic path. Who knows, maybe he’ll be lighting up TV screens in the next decade, one long jump at a time.

“I get high and feel like I’m flying,” he said of the long jump that earned him a medal. “It’s fun doing sports, especially when you win.”

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