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‘I beat an Olympian!’: Des Moines fifth-grader races DMPS Superintendent Ian Roberts, former Olympic runner


By Jodi Long

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) – A running race against a group of elementary school students seemed like an easy win for Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Ian Roberts, a former Olympic runner, but a speedy fifth-grader had other ideas.

Amayah Vilmael wasn’t planning on racing against the Des Moines superintendent at her Hubbell Elementary School field day last month, but when the opportunity arose, the 11-year-old was ready.

“I was very nervous. I was racing against my classmates and friends,” she said. “I was also racing against an adult who was probably three times my age, so I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’”

Amayah had lane 4 in the 100 meter sprint. Several other Hubbell students fill the inside lanes. Roberts, who competed in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, stood in lane 5, right next to Amayah.

Roberts appeared to take the lead about 50 meters ahead, but Amayah beat the district’s top leader at the finish.

Roberts raced in a striking maroon suit and Nike Air Force 1s with matching Swooshes. He said Vilmael won the race fair and square.

“I heard so many loud cheers,” Roberts said. I kept thinking I was back in Sydney, Australia, where 500,000 people are watching the race of their lives.

Vilmael trains and competes with the Excalibur Track Club in Des Moines, plays club soccer and excels in school. She said she learned the importance of hard work from her Nigerian and Haitian parents.

“Really all I had to do was get my feet ready, just push and work on my form, and it paid off,” Vimael said. “I was just really excited because I beat an Olympian who had raced a long time ago and he was still very fast. To be honest, I was just really proud of myself.”

Roberts calls the race a time to see student potential beyond the classroom.

“The work we do is so much more than just reading, writing and arithmetic,” he says. “There is so much talent among our young people. I look forward to seeing what happens with them in the coming years, not only academically, but also sportingly.”

Amayah’s mother, Birikisu Vilmael, said her daughter did not shy away from the moment.

“It’s about being prepared. We always tell them to be prepared because you never know when that opportunity will arise,” she said. “The sky is limitless for her. I’m just proud of her.”

The Des Moines School District took photos of the race that went viral on social media. The young runner says she heard from family and friends across the country, a moment she will never forget.

“I rode with an Olympian,” she said, smiling. “I will always keep that in my mind because it gives me more confidence when I run on the track.”

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