INSIGHT: Mitchel Cooper from spectator to participant
Just under 10 years ago, Mitchell Cooper and his father Garth won a competition to watch Benn Harradine throw the discus in his first Olympics in Beijing. Now they stand together, side by side, wearing the green and gold in London 2017 at the World Athletics Championships.
The boy from Burpengary.
At just 22, Mitchel Cooper has found him self at a crossroads. Having just finished a 4-year stint at the University of Kansas, the young lad from Burbengary, Queensland has been selected for his first senior athletics team to represent Australia.
“Mitch” as most call him, is a big man. He stands 197cm and selects his t-shirts from the XXXL rack. He looks as though he could be found on the Rugby field in the front row but instead, he chose to pursue a career in Athletics.
Mitch is a well spoken, kind and friendly character. He is generous and smiles often. Sometimes the wisdom he has seems well beyond his years. He describes his parents and his support network with genuine love and passion.
I played Rugby a lot as a kid. It was my favourite sport. I loved being part of the team and standing next to my “brothers” united together. Unfortunately, the politics of the sport got the better of me and I chose to find a passion somewhere else.
That “somewhere else” happened to be in the Discus Circle and it was not a decision he would regret.
When I was a young kid I had 3 idols from 3 different sports. I admired John Eels from Rugby, Lleyton Hewitt from Tennis and Ian Thorpe from swimming. I wanted to represent Australia! That has always been the dream. I didn’t really mind what sport it was.
Being a Queenslander, the home of the bent banana and tropical heat Mitch always had the opportunity to throw year round. His Father, Garth, also shared his interest and went along to do some coaching courses so he could coach his son.
Dad and I built a throwing circle on our property. We also built a net that I could throw into when I had to get a few more repetitions done. Both my parents work full time and I was too young to drive so it was the best case scenario for us.
Dad would work all day, come home and stand out in the paddock with me under floodlights while we threw discus after discus and because the circle was right next to a dam, we lost a lot of discs in the water. I’m sure there are still a few laying around there today.
For those unaware of Burpengary’s location, it sits around 45 minutes to an hour outside on Brisbane towards the Sunshine Coast. Australia, being such a vast country, the distance to travel to and from training and having access to adequate coaching is very challenging.
Mitch admits that for Australian kids it is not always an easy pathway to wear the green and gold. He was recruited for college 4 years ago on a full scholarship which he saw as a stepping stone to be able to get an education and support his drive to be one of Australia’s discus throwing futures.
Going to college is a very individual choice. You have to assess it on a needs basis. When I wrote everything down on paper to make my decision I had to factor in all the realities. If I was going to attend university in Brisbane, I would spend over 5 hours in the car each day driving back and forth to class. Heading to the US was very daunting because you hear so many stories of kids who went over and never survived or overtrained.
After I assessed the positives and negatives, I went to my mentors in Ken Harradine and Benn Harradine, and Mum and Dad to see what they said. They were extremely supportive of the idea and were just interested in me being happy and having fun.
Mitch had taken the attitude that college would fill the void that athletics in Australia could not take care of.
I was able to immerse myself in a daily environment where everything was there for me. The school (University of Kansas) were extremely supportive of me so I went from having a small family to having a huge family and created memories that I will have for years.
The purpose of college was to help me be a better athlete. I knew I wasn’t going to get support in Australia so I am happy that I made that decision.
He could not be more correct. Mitch improved his PB by more than 7 meters in 4 years. In 2017 his PB of 63.98 saw him selected for World Championships in London.
I see college as a stepping stone because in sport, and in this case, Athletics in Australia, we have a huge hole between your high school years and your young adult life. Development slows down and you kind of disappear. That is why it was important for me, knowing that those years from 18-21 were going to be very difficult and heading over to college I was able to take care of that structure and keep working and getting better.
Mitch explains that family is everything to him. He is very proud to acknowledge that if it wasn’t for his parents selflessness he would not be on his way to London to compete at the world championships.
My Mum and Dad always tell me that I have grown up to be a great young man, which I don’t know if I agree with, but I always say that I am who I am because of them. They brought me up to be like this and I could not be more thankful.
He also proclaims that he is pretty boring when it comes to comp day preparation whilst in the same sentence explains that he always carries a towel to the arena that his brother gave to him years ago.
A few Christmas ago My brother Lindsay gave me a towel that I use to wipe my discus. He had, “GO THROW BRO!” embroidered on it for me. You know, nothing says brotherly love like rubbing mud from my discus all over his gift ha ha ha
I’m really looking forward to being in a big stadium again. I am also very excited to interact and be a part of the team that I have been following closely for years. At the same time I think this opportunity has come a little early in my development which I dunno, seems funny to say, but if I want to be on this team for years to come I need to be here.
Mitch perhaps humbly forgets that he has earned the right to wear the green and gold for Australia in London. He was chosen on his own merit. It is exactly what he needs to keep his motivation strong, especially after just finishing his college career. It will be the perfect boost through the crossroads.
Burpengary to Beijing by chance!
The relationship between Benn and Ken Harradine and the Coopers has quite the back story.
Nearly 10 years ago, just prior to Beijing Olympics, one of the Olympic sponsors was hosting a competition called “Champion Kids” where sporting kids from all over the world got the chance to go and watch the Olympics. At the same time, a TV broadcaster in Australia ran a competition for the parents called “Champion Parents” where people could write in and tell them about a parent who has contributed to sport in Australia. Mitch wrote in about his Dad, Garth and how his father took a coaching course and helped him reach his first national championships at 10 years old.
After he coached me he just started helping everybody! So I wrote into the TV station and told them all about it and WE WON! Next thing you know me and Dad are off on a 3-day tour of Beijing to watch you (Benn) throw discus in your first Olympics.
After the Olympics, Garth and Mitch attended one of the HP Seminars and kept a close mentorship with Ken and Benn, participating in training camps and training sessions. Both families remain very close friends and there will be a contingency of them sitting in the Olympic Park in London, Prouder than ever.
I have a great support group. I can come to you (Benn) and Ken and to the people who have been there from the start to help guide me, I think I am in great hands with people that have my best interest at heart. But for now, I am super excited to wear the Green and Gold for the first time on the senior team. I have been on two junior teams for Australia and I can say I have nothing but positive things to report about those experiences so I can only imagine that this will be better.
Both Mitchell and Benn compete in the Men’s Discus in London which begins on the 4th of August. Mitchell’s first team and Benn’s fifth.
Mitch should be proud of himself. He has developed into a fine young man and this is just the beginning of his career. His selection to worlds is some validation for his decision to go to College. We don’t have any expectations on him, it is just important that he keeps his eyes up and learns. Sport should be fun, and that is what we encourage at HP. We are elated if a person can keep moving forward and to create themselves constantly through ACTION.
More about Mitch:
2011: Commonwealth Youth, Isle of Man
2012: World Juniors, Barcelona
2014: World Juniors, Eugene
2017: World Championships, London
More about Benn:
2006: Commonwealth Games, Melbourne
2008: Olympic Games, Beijing
2009: World Championships, Berlin
2010: Commonwealth Games, Dehli
2010: World Cup, Split
2011: World Championships, Daegu
2012: Olympic Games, London
2013: World Championships, Moscow
2014: Commonwealth Games, Glasgow
2015: World Championships, Beijing
2016: Olympic Games, Rio
2017: World Championships, London