When the students at Reuben Johnson Elementary School go for a morning run, they get to do so alongside Olympic silver medalist Michael Blackwood.
Blackwood, a physical education assistant, won the medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics as a member of the four by 400-meter relay team representing Jamaica.
He also competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics alongside teammate Usain Bolt, the “world’s fastest man.” He keeps a photo of the two together in his office.
Blackwood is new to the school’s staff this year, and taught last year in the Grapevine-Colleyville school district.
He has lived in McKinney with his wife, Tiffany, and three children since retiring from his professional athletic career in 2009.
“I’ve been to the top and I know what it takes,” Blackwood said. “I want to help kids lead a healthy and active lifestyle.”
Standing 6 feet 4 inches tall, he towered over his students on a recent afternoon as they headed outdoors.
“Let’s go,” he called out. “Walk with a purpose.”
The children lined up outside the school to compete in a relay race.
“Just make sure you’re in line with your partners and your feet are behind the line,” he told them.
Fellow Johnson Elementary physical education teacher Simmie Belonga said she was overjoyed when she heard an Olympic medalist would be teaching at the school this year.
“It’s such a blessing,” she said. “He is so genuine and down to earth. He’s humble and modest.”
Blackwood grew up in Clarendon, Jamaica, watching his older sister Catherine Scott compete as a runner. She won a silver medal in 2000 on behalf of Jamaica--in the same event that he medaled in, the four by 400 meter relay.
“My sister is my role model,” he said. "I used to watch her racing. She was so fast, I said, ‘I want to run just as fast.’ She inspired me.”
As a high school student, Blackwood competed in Jamaica’s national Boys & Girls Championship, where many American universities recruit athletes. He regarded his high school coach at the time as a father figure — someone he wants to emulate now. His goal is to one day become a track coach.
“I had someone to lead me on the right path,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood holds a degree in visual communications from the University of Oklahoma. His racing career took him all over the world, including trips to Monaco, Madrid, London and Paris. He met celebrity athletes including Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming.
He has won numerous awards and medals along the way. He holds the Big 12 record for the 400 meter run. He won first place in the 400 meters at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, in 2002.
Blackwood ran his personal best in the 400 meters in 2002, at 44.6 seconds. American runner Michael Johnson set the current world record of 43.18 seconds in 1999.
Surprisingly, his favorite sport isn’t track and field — it’s cricket. He taught a unit on the sport last year to his students.
He also co-founded the Elite Striders track club with his sister-in-law. As part of the program, he coached middle and high school students last spring and summer, culminating in a track meet.
“I tell them you have to be very focused and dedicated,” he said. “Sacrifice is a must. You have to eat, train and rest. If you’re a world-class athlete you have to be very health-conscious.”
Blackwood looks forward to spending the rest of the school year at Johnson.
"What I love the most about my students is they're so young that they have a lot to learn--and I have a lot to teach them," he said.
To learn more, visit Blackwood’s Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Blackwood.