Running to Rio: The Olympian Prince who trains at Corsair Field
As the late April morning sun hid behind the gloomy, grey clouds that filled the sky, Prince Mumba lightly strolled onto the Santa Monica College Track with only a small bag in his hands. For a man just shy of 6-feet tall, Mumba doesn't draw much attention when he arrives for his morning ritual. Hidden behind his humble demeanor, Prince takes the track every Tuesday and Thursday morning and looks to turn his dreams into reality. For the past 15 years, the 31 year old Prince Mumba has represented his home country of Zambia as an 800-meter runner in five World Championships (2001, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2013) as well as two Olympics (the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics).
"It’s something that I had dreamt when I was young kid," said Mumba about his Olympic experience. "I was only eight years old and I was like, 'One day I want to be in the Olympics.' When I went there [the 2004 Olympics] for the opening ceremony, I just looked at the people and started crying."
Mumba was born in Kitwe, Zambia, the second largest city in the southeastern African nation. At a young age he moved to the Zambian capital city, Lusaka. By the age of 16, Prince was the fastest man in Zambia and earned the chance to represent his nation at the 2001 IAAF World Championships in Edmonton, Canada.
At the World Championships, a 16-year-old Mumba impressed several coaches from American universities. By 2002, he was on his way to the states to run for Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma and by 2004, Prince was one of the top college runners in the entire nation and was able to qualify for the Olympics.
"I was 19 turning 20," said Mumba about when he found out he qualified for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. "It was something you can’t describe, this awesomeness. I felt like I was on the top of the world."
After competing in his first Olympics and finishing his collegiate running career as a three-time NCAA All-American, Mumba continued competing and in 2008 crossed paths with famous track coach Joe Douglas, founder of one of the most accomplished track clubs ever, the Santa Monica Track Club.
"I was in Arkansas competing in indoors, so Joe Douglas got his athlete, one of his good athletes, and I beat him. So Joe approached me and said, ‘You want to come train with me?’ I was like, ‘Oh, of course.'”
Mumba could not pass up the opportunity to be coached by Douglas and moved out to Santa Monica in 2008.
“He has trained athletes that have been Olympic medalists, world champions, world record holders and American record holders," said Mumba.
Douglas knows his fair share about training the best of the best in track and field.
The sharp-minded 79 year old only stands five feet four inches, full of memories and stories from when he founded the Santa Monica Track Club in 1972 to coaching Carl Lewis — arguably the greatest Olympian ever — and the 27 Olympic medals his athletes have collected.
The energetic Douglas hasn't missed a beat over the years.
Since 1974, he has meticulously kept records of every race of every athlete he has trained. His database numbers 8,227 entries to date and includes 66 American records and 34 world records. “Joe’s workouts are high quality," said Mumba. “His training is amazing. It has made me stronger and faster. I’ve grown so much.”
Mumba's improvements under the coaching of Douglas were evident just by looking at the numbers. Over the course of just a few years, Mumba trimmed several seconds off of his best personal time leading up to the 2012 Olympics.
Both Douglas and Mumba agreed that the runner was in the best shape of his life for the 2012 Olympics. This fact was not just acknowledged by Mumba's camp though: his home country of Zambia took notice of the runner's excellent shape and rewarded him with the opportunity to carry his country's flag at the opening ceremony.
"So I thought my dream was just to go to the Olympics and just compete, make the finals, get the medal," said Mumba, wiping away joyous tears. "I never thought one day I would carry the flag.”
Since moving to the US in 2002, Prince has visited Zambia every other year. Most people probably don't know his face, but on many occasions, once hearing his name, Zambians become awestruck of how their country's best athlete is a humble, down to earth individual.
Aiming to get back to the world's largest stage for track and field by qualifying for this year's Olympics in Rio, Mumba faces several obstacles.
“The hurdle that Prince has to go over is that he doesn’t have enough money to support himself," said Douglas. "He has to work full time, then he has to workout. That makes it very, very difficult.”
Even with the challenge of balancing training and work, Mumba's motivation for making the Olympics is not just for himself. Mumba strives to give back to the impoverished children of his home nation, despite his own financial difficulties.
"Doing this Olympics, I’m doing it for the kids," said Mumba. "They will look at what I’ve been through, what I’ve accomplished, they will see that it is possible.”
Following the Rio Olympics, Mumba will continue his work on the track club he has founded himself, the Prince Mumba Track Club. He looks to use the PMTC as a stepping stone to creating his own charitable foundation to fund the education of impoverished children in developing countries, while also providing running classes to show how physical training sharpens the mind.
Every time Mumba rounds the northern curve of the track, he flies by a plaque beside the field's entrance that reads, "For a lifelong commitment to excellence in track and field and for helping to make the Santa Monica College Track a premier facility for everyone from students to world class athletes."
Mumba embodies the world class athlete that the sign mentions. He's led a life full of success that he achieved with a strong work ethic. He has a tough road ahead, but with the help of Douglas, he will look to continue that trend as he sprints down the road to Rio.