Kaelen Mitchell after his long jump win at VA Showcase.
Because COVID-19 knocked out the outdoor season in New Jersey last spring, it would be understandable if many of the state's track and field athletes, especially those in the more technical events, were a bit rusty in the early part of this indoor season and needed time to sharpen up.
Not Kaelen Mitchell.
Instead, Mitchell, a senior at Piscataway, wasted no time grabbing everyone's attention this season by soaring near the top of the state's all-time list and the national list with several eye-popping performances in the long jump.
What Mitchell has done over the first month of the season is nothing short of amazing as he's improved his personal best by more than three feet since last year!
In his latest meet, Mitchell, competing for the Maximum Speed Track Club (the start of high school season in NJ has been pushed back until next month), exploded for a NJ No.4 all-time indoor leap of 24-3.25, No. 2 in the nation this season, to finish first at last Saturday's prestigious VA Showcase at the Virginia Beach Sports Center.
The 5-11, 170-pound Mitchell defeated a loaded field at the VA Showcase, which included the current US No.1 ranked jumper, Jaden Price-Whitehead of Upper Dubln High School in Pa., who placed fourth with a 23-11.75. The University of South Carolina-bound Price-Whitehead leads the nation with a 24-10.75.
Mitchell also came up with huge long jump victories last month with marks of 24-2.25 at the Energice Coaches Hall of Fame Invitational, and 23-5.25 at the Marine Corps Holiday Classic.
The only jumpers in NJ indoor history to go further than Mitchell are the legendary Carl Lewis of Willingboro, the state record holder with the 25-5.50 he went at the 1979 Eastern States Championships at Princeton's Jadwin Gym, Gerard Reynolds of Willingboro (24-5.25 in 1990), and Hanif Kendrick of Franklin (24-3.75 in 2007).
Piscataway head track and field coach Pete Buccino said Mitchell's passion for the sport, his relentless work ethic, and his pure natural talent have blended together to produce these remarkable results.
"I felt he had potential as he was maturing physically, and had a good junior indoor season sprinting,'' said Buccino. "He has worked with his track club all summer and fall, and really stepped up in the sprints as well as the long jump. He's really dedicated himself to getting better.''
NJ MileSplit caught up with Mitchell for a Q and A where he talked about what he's been doing to improve so much, how much he learns by watching some of the best jumpers in the world, his thoughts on reaching 25 feet and challenging the state LJ record, and a whole lot more.
So, sit back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Kaelen Mitchell.
Kaelen Mitchell Interview
NJM: Coming into this season, your long jump PR was 20-8.5. Now you're up to 24-3.25. That's an amazing improvement! How surprised are you by what you've been doing?
I'm not surprised because I've been working hard since early summer, and I've been really dedicated to getting better and perfecting my jumps. So I'm just grateful that my hard work is paying off.
How have you been able to improve so much? What is the biggest difference in the way you jump now? Have you changed your approach on the runway or something in your takeoff or what?
I've been able to improve so much by having a consistent workout and mindset to correct errors that I may see. The biggest difference in the way I jump now is I focus on making sure my technique is correct and making adjustments as necessary. My runway speed is better, and getting my knees closer to my chest in the air has helped.
How much did the victory at the VA showcase mean to you as you defeated a loaded field, including US No.1 ranked jumper, Jaden Price-Whitehead?
The victory at the VA showcase meant a lot. It showed me that confidence in myself and my perseverance paid off and that I can consistently compete at a high level.
Your 24-3.5 places you No. 4 in state indoor history and No. 2 in the country this season! Did you know that? What does that mean to you, and what are your biggest goals for this season in the LJ and the sprints?
I didn't know that it placed me No. 4 in the state indoor history. I'm very grateful and humble to hear that. My biggest goals in the season for long jump and sprints is just to stay focused, get better get faster and stay healthy and injury free. So I can continue to do what I love and compete.
The state indoor LJ record of 25-5.5 is held by the legendary Carl Lewis. What are your thoughts on your chances of challenging that record and trying to break it?
That's my goal, to continue to challenge myself to break records. So I look forward to trying to make that happen.
What do you think the keys are for you to reach 25 feet and beyond? Are there any specific techniques that you are working on to help you keep setting new PR's?
Just for me to be consistent in my training and mechanics of jumping.
What do you consider your greatest strengths as a track and field athlete? What do you think enables you to be as great as you are in the LJ?
My greatest strength is that I am focused mentally. My physical abilities as well as my mental focus and my belief in God that I can accomplish goals that I set for myself. Enables me to do well in the long jump.
Let's get into some background. Can you let me know how and when you first got started competing in track and field? What got you interested?
I started running in track and field at age eight. I got interested in it after attending the Joetta Clark-Diggs Camp at New Brunswick High School. I wanted to try it out when I got high school because I heard it was good to do, and once I started doing it, I loved it.
Unfortunately, there wasn't an outdoor season last spring because of COVID-19, and fall sports were cancelled at Piscataway, so you didn't get a chance to play football. How challenging was that and how tough was it mentally to deal with?
It wasn't that challenging as I already decided to focus my fall semester at excelling at my academics and preparing for the track season.
What type of things did you do to stay sharp for track and field during the spring/summer? I'm sure you had to come up with some creative ways to do drills etc.?
I worked consistently with my AAU coach Johnny Pittman (head coach of the Maximum Speed Track Club). He is also my personal trainer.
Do you study and learn from any long jumpers by watching YouTube etc? If so, who and what have you picked up from watching them?
I spend numerous hours looking at various long jumpers. I watch past OIympic Games, and watch the long jumpers. A long jumper I try to match is Jeff Henderson. Henderson won the gold medal in the LJ at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and captured the US Outdoor LJ titles in 2014, '16, and '18.
When would you say you had your first huge breakthrough moment when you realized you could be a big track and field?
When I noticed my jumping and sprinting ability is when I got involved with different sports.
What do you love the most about being a track and field athlete?
What I love most is that I compete against myself and I always push myself to do better. Also I like working with my teammates.
There are lots of football stars out there that choose not to do another sport while in high school. Instead, they focus on football year-round by lifting ,and doing speed and conditioning drills etc. What made you decide to keep doing both sports, and in what ways do you think competing in track and field helped you with football and how much did playing football help you with track and field?
Initially, I decided to do both sports because I love them both and I think they both have an element of competitiveness that I like.
How about the future? Are you committed to a college yet? If not, what schools are you considering?
I haven't committed to a college yet. I'm still looking.
What do you plan to major in? What is your long-term career goal?
I plan to major in communications, and my long term goal is to work in digital media.