“Akwasi, Akwasi, e-te-seng!”
“Akwasi, how are you?” Five dark-skinned boys asked in my mother tongue at the Salt Lake International airport. These five boys, all athletes from Utah Valley University, my new home, and originally from Africa like myself, formed a welcoming committee.
On August 15, 2008, I departed to the United States from Amsterdam, the Netherlands for a minimum stay of one year. The goal I envisioned for myself was to study and practice sports in the U.S. to be a good example to people in the Netherlands who are not as fortunate as I am and, most importantly, to prepare for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Saying goodbye to my loved ones at Schiphol airport was very tough for me. Passing through customs with tears in my eyes, I thought all about who I was leaving behind. My dear girlfriend Kimberly Willems, her parents, my parents, the rest of the family, those from my Dutch high school (the Johan Cruyff College) and even the camera team that had spent the last five years making a film of my life.
My first Sunday in Utah was a miserable time. When I went jogging this first day after arriving, Utah’s many churches were occupied with faithful members that Sabbath day and I came across no one. It was a very lonely feeling.
Utah has a beautiful landscape with gigantic mountains and scorching heat during the day, an inconvenience if you have to run and train hard.
That Wednesday, August 20, I participated in an introduction day for international students, comprised of about 100 students from across the whole world. I was introduced as the new “track star” at UVU who has a goal of participating in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The whole hall gave me a standing ovation, from which I truly got a warm feeling.
Later that day, I took my first steps on the American sports journey. I met sprint coach Edwin Randolph, Randy, a Ghanaian of origin like me. This monster of a guy, who is also a county sheriff for most part of the week, is a real hardliner. His favorite business is keeping problematic boys on the good path. As directed by Randy, it is forbidden to skip a training session, a competition or anything else. I think that Sheriff Randy will play a huge role in my sports achievements.
The training started with a half an hour warm-up with a few intense exercises. Even during the warm-up, I could feel lactic acid building up in my legs. I was exhausted and I asked myself: Why was I doing this? I felt drained, nauseous and unbalanced.
Then we did a lovely full-out 300-meter sprint and I was completely destroyed. It was scorching hot, my throat was bone-dry, I could hardly breathe and the air burned my body everywhere.
According to the Sheriff, the hard work only starts in October when the real training gets underway. That was only foreplay. He explained to me that I have to learn how to run relaxed and that I should complete all my training exercises.
“Let your legs do the work,” he said.
The Sheriff said that it was only a matter of time before I’d get used to the treatment of the Utah-approach.
“Akwasi, e-te-seng? Akwasi, how are you?” still resounds in the back of my mind.
Still a long way to go until 2012.