Since injury forced her into an early retirement in 2010, US sprinter Mechelle Lewis Freeman has taken her first steps as a fashion entrepreneur by launching her own sports apparel company for women
As an Olympic sprinter, Mechelle Lewis Freeman always lived life in the fast lane. She ran in the US 4x100m relay team at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, a year after she helped win world championship relay gold for the USA in Japan.
But after injury forced her into an early retirement in 2010, the American – who already boasted a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications – was unsure what the future held. That was until she discovered the IOC’s Athlete Career Programme (ACP).
Using the ACP as a stepping stone
“I had a good education and some work experience but I was struggling to refocus,” she says now. “The ACP website was a brilliant resource and really helped me get things moving. I quickly realised I needed to take a fresh look at my résumé and find a better way to articulate my skills.
“The ACP helped me get a nine-month internship with Coca-Cola in the build-up to the Olympic Games London 2012. Getting back into the workplace was a big boost to my confidence.”
It was that confidence which led Lewis Freeman to launch her own company, Trackgirlz, in 2015. “We sell branded sports and leisure clothing but the website is designed to be more than that,” she explains.
“It’s an online community that aims to provide a consistent voice for female athletes out there of all abilities because I believe they are great role models.”
Reaching out for help
By her own admission, the business side of TrackGirlz has proved the greatest personal and professional challenge for Lewis Freeman.
“My background is in communications and sponsorship but I’ve no real experience in retail,” she says. “It’s been a steep learning curve and I decided to source out the manufacture delivery of the clothing to make it all happen. I realised I needed help, which I think is an important lesson when you’re starting out.”
She continues: “I’ve also learned that business is not all about you. As an athlete, you fly all over the world, you follow your own schedule and you’re in charge. The business world is different; you have to be collaborative and you’re working to collective goals. That has been a big mental and emotional adjustment.”
Lewis Freeman’s reinvention from Olympic athlete to budding clothing magnate has been impressive, but she is convinced anyone can successfully emulate if they plan ahead at the right time of their career.
“It’s important to be aware that it is a big transition,” she says. “Not many people can simply run their last competitive race and then seamlessly do something else with their lives. It’s a big moment and takes time to adjust.
“My advice is to use what you’re doing now as a platform for what comes next. You need to plan for the future while you’re still relevant in athletics and be prepared for a new life away from the track. You don’t want retirement to come as a sudden shock because then you’re on the back foot.”