by Kevin Grogan
One of the first Track and Field Olympians to put Clermont on the map was certainly Damu Cherry-Mitchell. The world-class hurdler spent many hours grinding away and perfecting her trade at the National Training Center track leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games.  Now a very busy mom around town, she has shifted focus to her daughter Aaleyah; and continues to bring that same passion into everything she does now in the business world. Cherry-Mitchell was nice enough to catch up with the SOUTH LAKE TABLET following a South Lake Chamber of Commerce breakfast where she was the guest speaker last week. 
 Tablet:  A 2008 Olympian in Beijing in the 100m hurdles and always in the hunt in the USA Championships during your Track career –  Bring us up to speed with your life after competition.
Cherry-Mitchell:  The biggest and most important part of my life is being a mom.  My 4-year-old daughter keeps me busy daily. Most rewarding and challenging all at the same time. I still help my husband with our track club Star Athletics. I took a break from coaching after Aaleyah was born but I am thinking of getting back with it. I miss working with kids and helping them achieve their goals.
Tablet:  You’ve been part of Lake County as long as I can remember.  What do you like most about living here?
Cherry-Mitchell:  I love the weather and the people of course. This is a great area to raise a family with the feel of a small town but we still have access to Disney, Universal, and many other attractions that are so close to us.
Tablet:  You are a storied carrier at the University of South Florida in Tampa and a USF legend!  Talk about your time at USF and also your athletic background as a youth and in high school.
Cherry-Mitchell:  USF was a great school and I had a lot of ups and downs there that helped shape me to be a better athlete during my professional career.
I was a gymnast during my youth and then made the transition to full time track my sophomore year in high school at Leto High. I was forced to change sport due to injuries and a big growth spurt that made gymnastics a challenge. Gymnastics has always been my first love so I coached for a few years at Brandy Johnson’s Gymnastics when I moved to Clermont in 2004. I had a  great time coaching my girls while I trained in track.  They helped me focus and stay focused.
Tablet:  You are still so very fit. What do you enjoy doing to stay active? Do you still go back to the track?
Cherry-Mitchell:  Actually, I do not run much. I tried but all the years of gymnastics, cheerleading, dance and professional track have taken a toll on my body. I have been forced to find other ways to stay in shape. I spend most of my time at the Hit Fit Gym. I can modify High-Intensity workouts if I need too and still get a good workout in. It is also fun as well.  I usually go to the track to catch up with the team or watch them at a few track meets when I can.
Tablet:  I heard that Aaleyah loves to swim. I think we can even classify you as a “Swim Mom”.   With such a strong track background, do you feel it’s important to expose her as many sports/activities as possible?
Cherry-Mitchell:  {Laughing}  Yes, my parents started me swimming at a young age and I feel it’s important that kids know how to swim early for safety and especially living in Florida where there will always be a pool around or pool party when she gets older. We also have a pool so it was important for her not to be afraid of the the water. We started Aaleyah’s swimming lessons at age one.  Turns out she is a little fish and will swim all day if I let her.
Yes, I do believe in exposing kids to all different types of sports and see which one they truly are good at and actually like.  It will be fun to see what Aaleyah chooses to do. Right now it’s swimming and she is asking me to take her back to gymnastics so we are signing her back up very soon.
Tablet:  You recently started a new position at Paoerhouse Financial.  What parallels your new job versus your days as a World Class hurdler?
Cherry-Mitchell:  I believe the challenges of hurdling made me pretty tough and I also feel it’s important to educate athletes on the financial side of things and planning for after their competitive career is over.  I felt it was important to learn all aspects of the financial industry so I can share with the new generation of athletes. 
Tablet:  What do you see yourself doing say five years down the road?
Cherry-Mitchell:  Well, for sure Aaleyah’s personal uber driver (haha), if she is anything like I was. I had my parents driving me from one place to the next. I was very busy both in sports and at school.  From what I can tell, she will be the same way. I also see myself working more with kids. I have let that go but I believe that is what I am supposed to be doing. I have always worked well with children so I see coaching and camps happening very soon.
Tablet: And finally reflect on your experience as an Olympian; leading up to it and then the actual experience.
Cherry-Mitchell:  It was an amazing time and I will never forget it. Leading up to it had a lot of challenges but those challenges helped me that very day of competition. That 12 seconds of my life where I had to focus and not let anything stop me from making the Olympic team. A tight hamstring, my mom’s cancer diagnosis, worry/fear/doubt, all had to be pushed aside. Dennis (coach/husband) taught me to take all my options away, no excuses or distractions, just find a way to get the job done.  The experience was fun and maybe, at times, I put too much pressure on myself but I wouldn’t change a thing. That life experience was a fun time in my life.
Tablet:  Anything else you would like to say to our South Lake Tablet readers?
Cherry-Mitchell:  Thank you for welcoming us to the community, and if you have a little extra time, come out and support our annual Sprint Series track meet at Montverde Academy on June 8th. 

Kevin Grogan is a contributing writer for the South Lake Tablet. He is also the owner of Gear for Multisport, Athletic Gear and a south Lake athlete.