ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NEW JERSEY—Jeanne Mitchell, 68, came in third in her age group at her first triathlon last year.
“I’m not sure where it came from, I just had this crazy idea that I wanted to do a triathlon,” Mitchell said to NTD.
Mitchell’s daughter had long persisted in trying to get her to the gym, but Mitchell never had an interest as she was already quite healthy. Until last year—at age 67, she took up serious training to participate in her first triathlon.
“I played sports in high school, and I’m an active person, but I had never ever run before. So that was the biggest challenge.”
Mitchell used to work as a psychotherapist and an artist. After retirement, she is now a grandmother, taking care of her granddaughters and her home.
But she wasn’t always so healthy.
From a young age, Mitchell easily suffered from illnesses and had a terrible immune system. “A chill in August and I would get sick,” she said.
After giving birth to her two children, she became very sick. Then her doctor told her that she needed to find a philosophy, a meaning in life.
So Mitchell started to practice different exercises such as Tai Chi, yoga, and many others. Then she found an ancient spiritual Chinese meditation called Falun Dafa.
“I went from being sick all the time, I had a horrible immune system, to being healthy overnight.”
The practice not only changed her physically, she also felt that she really had found the meaning of life.
“It wasn’t till Falun Dafa; after that, I’d found what I was looking for. I became what I think is a better person,” Mitchell said. She added, “My husband said a month after doing the practice, I was easier to live with.”
Falun Dafa also known as Falun Gong, has teachings based on truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, and five sets of exercises. It was introduced to the public in 1992. According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, an estimated 70-100 million people were practicing Falun Gong in China by July 1999.
It spread rapidly throughout China and the world by word of mouth, as people experienced miracles of health and moral improvement.
Mitchell was one of them.
Atrocities in China
Mitchell recalled she had the burning desire to learn Chinese, but thought it was impossible because she was tone-deaf. However, her interest didn’t stop and she started to listen to audio recordings, went to Taiwanese school with children for a year, and then studied at Columbia University for three years with undergraduate and graduate students. Now she can read the main book of Falun Gong—Zhuan Falun—in Chinese.
“Unfortunately, I can’t go to China,” she said. “I practice freely in this country, but unfortunately in China … they banned the practices and started persecuting Falun Dafa practitioners.”
More than 20 years ago, fearing that its popularity would jeopardize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s rule, then-regime leader Jiang Zemin launched nation-wide persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.
Since then, an estimated 1 million Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to prisons, labor camps, brainwashing centers, and other detention facilities where many have been tortured in an effort to force them to renounce their faith. The suppression continues today.
Mitchell wanted to raise awareness of this fact.
Running for Freedom
Mitchell wears a sort of uniform when she runs.
For every race and training session, she makes sure to wear her custom-made shirt with “Freedom For Falun Dafa” printed on it. It has attracted a lot of people to ask what it means.
“I was able to tell people about the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, and about the persecution, and what wonderful health it’s given me,” Mitchell said.
Her goal in races is not to win, she said, it is to fight for the human rights of the Chinese people who don’t have the freedom to believe and speak.
“When something has given you so much, you want to pay back, you want to give something back to it,” Mitchell said. “So I wanted to have the triathlon to be a way of raising awareness about the persecution of Falun Gong.”
This year, she is training herself for a half marathon next year, as well as Escape the Cape Triathlon, and hopes that more people will know about the beauty, as well as the persecution, of Falun Gong.