Promise made… promise kept

Published 7:04 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008

AHOSKIE – It was the kind of thing that happens once in a lifetime for the second-grade classes at Bearfield Primary School.

LaShawn Merritt, a sprinter from Virginia who won two gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics, visited the school on Tuesday afternoon and spoke to a gym full of awe-struck students and their teachers.

It was Merritt’s second time in Ahoskie.

The first visit came in 2004 shortly after the rising star athlete graduated high school and it was then that he spoke at a local children’s event and promised to return after he won his first gold medal. Little did Merritt know then that just four years later he would be coming back to keep that very promise.

“I told them (children in 2004) then and I’ll tell you now that they could get anything done that they wanted to do in life and it starts at your age,” Merritt said to the room full of 7- and 8-year-olds.

He added, “In order to play sports, you have to get good grades and listen to teachers and respect your parents. Ahoskie is a small town but the city where I’m from is only a little bit bigger than here and I made it out. I had a dream to win a gold medal and I got two of them.”

Merritt continued, “As you get older you can start to really follow your dreams and don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t… whatever you want to do in life, you can do it. Believing is achieving and once you put your mind to something, you can get it done.”

The Olympic champion then presented Bearfield Primary School with a framed, autographed poster of himself along with a pair of black and gold Nike shoes he wore while competing.

After speaking to the Bearfield students, Merritt chose two out of the crowd to “compete” in an impromptu race with him.

Cameron Mitchell and Alexander Streling were his competitors and after one false start, 7-year-old Streling took the “gold,” beating a smiling Merritt to the finish line by just a few feet.

Merritt promised to return in four more years, hopefully again with yet another gold medal.

At the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in China, Merritt captured gold medals in the 400-meter run and the 4×400 meter relay.