DES MOINES, Iowa (June 27, 2023) – The AAU Junior Olympic Games will be held in Greater Des Moines, July 26 – August 5. The youth, multi-sport event will bring more than 12,000 athletes and their families to the metro. According to the AAU, this is the largest youth outdoor competition in the U.S. Some of these athletes will go on to be pro and even Olympic athletes.
Former AAU Junior Olympic athlete, Isaiah Griffith, competed in JO games from age 8 to age 18. He is now a professional long and triple jumper.“I’m grateful that my body has allowed me to keep doing this and that I’ve been able to jump and keep jumping at this stage,” said Isaiah Griffith. Griffith’s first year competing in triple jump, at age 13, he broke the national record. Moving on to high school, he stuck with AAU instead of competing through his high school like typical teenagers.
“To me, those meets still mattered, even though I know a lot of others said if you aren’t doing it during track season, then it’s not as big and broadcasted. My thing was use AAU track and field to get me to college.”Fast forward to this year, Griffith competed for the first time, professionally, at the Drake Relays. He had been to the iconic Blue Oval twice before, in 2009 and 2014 for the AAU Junior Olympic Games. When he stepped foot back into Drake Stadium to compete this year – the memories came flooding back. “When I walked in the stadium it was like a million memories came back. The last time I was on the track was in 2014. I got chills, it was like déjà vu, but you’ve actually been there,” said Griffith.
Another former AAU JO athlete is Deonne Witherspoon, who now works with the Iowa Cubs. Witherspoon competed his 5th through 8th grade years in track. He got his start after his uncle was shot and killed. He wanted to create a legacy for his uncle and feel that connection between the two of them each time he stepped foot on a track. But for him, it was also about being an athlete that people talked about while representing and traveling with his family.“One of the biggest things for me was showing up to AAU meets and an 11 or 12-year-old kid has a name that’s ringing throughout the whole stadium. Making myself want to be better so I could be that person that’s being talked about so I can be the person that’s recognized when I come onto the track,” said Witherspoon. After high school, Witherspoon went on to run track at Drake University on a full scholarship. That first time back at Drake during a college visit was nostalgic, as he had also been there during the 2009 AAU Junior Olympic Games.
“It felt like home. I remember standing in the bleachers and looking at the track and I felt like it was a big swimming pool that I could dive in and be in forever.”Witherspoon is no longer a track athlete, and being a spectator at the Drake Relays this year brought back everything he missed about competing. “I heard the bells from the last lap and I heard the gunshot for the start of the race and it was so nostalgic. I began to cry and called my mom and saying how much I missed it. How much I missed traveling, competing, and the small things like getting in the bleachers and setting up a tent for shade.” Both Griffith and Witherspoon credit AAU Junior Olympic Games for the love of the sport and letting them get to where they are in life today.
For more information about the AAU Junior Olympic Games and how people can get involved, visit catchdesmoines.com/aau-junior-olympic-games.
About Catch Des Moines
The Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Des Moines Area Sports Commission, collectively known as Catch Des Moines, is the official destination marketing organization promoting and representing Greater Des Moines to leisure travelers and meeting/sports planners. Our focus is to increase visitors to the metro and elevate the visitor experience to drive economic success and enhance the quality of life in the 14 local Greater Des Moines communities we represent. For more information, visit catchdesmoines.com.