Featured image, Phobay Kutu-Akoi

Thanks to Wikipedia, retired Liberian sprinter Phobay Kutu-Akoi had no clue that she is the first and only woman to carry Liberia’s flag into the Olympic stadium. The site incorrectly listed Gladys Thompson as Liberia’s first female Olympic flag bearer, but LIB Olympic Blog caught the error and delivered the fun fact to Kutu-Akoi. In return, the former runner shared her 2012 London Olympic experience and offered some great advice for professional athletes and Olympic hopefuls.

“Do it because you love the sport. If you’re doing it for anything else outside of the love, it’s gonna be really hard for you to get to where you want to go.”

Years before marching into London’s Olympic stadium with an uncontrollable wide grin on her face, Kutu-Akoi dreamed of running in the Olympics. She would sit in her high school classroom doodling the Olympic rings on her arms and imagine being an Olympian. Her love for the sport and Liberia fueled her passion on those days when her body didn’t want to cooperate. The track star was the first among her Olympic teammates to qualify for the Games, that year. When she got the call that she would carry Liberia’s flag, she couldn’t have been more excited than she already was. Her love for the sport kept her disciplined on and off the track. Getting to finals and semi-finals takes that type of discipline — drinking water, eating right, stretching and getting enough rest. Everybody can go to practice, but what do you do when no one’s looking?

“Get a mentor. Get someone who’s done it before to give you advice to guide you along the way because it’s so tough to do it on your own.”

Kutu-Akoi names three dynamic women who have inspired her career. Of course, her mom has been a model of strength and her college track coach opened up doors she didn’t know existed, but it’s Dr. Grace Ann Dinkins who impacted her career on Liberia’s track team the most. She calls — fellow Olympian and Liberian track star — Dr. Dinkins a mentor, big sister and friend. Dr. Dinkins went above and beyond after her tenure as a professional athlete. She issued monthly stipends for Liberian athletes who couldn’t afford training, upgraded hotel conditions during track meets, and even made grocery store runs to get healthy snacks for the team. As a three-time Olympian, Dr. Dinkins knew how to guard the athletes from some of the holes that existed within the national track federation. Getting a strong mentor  is a necessity.

Phobay Kutu-Akoi leads the 2012 Liberia Olympic Team into the Olympic Stadium.

Dont’ forget about your career. Meet people. Network. Don’t forget about your  growth outside of the sport.”

Nobody tells professional athletes what happens once that title is removed from their identity. That transformation can be tough. The recently retired sprinter can vouch for this. After hanging up her cleats, Kutu-Akoi struggled a bit with her post-athletic journey. She shares that eventually the athletic profession comes to an end and sometimes the athlete doesn’t get to choose when that happens. Always think about life after sports. Use the  platform, education, and networks obtained to build a successful post-sports-life. Also, don’t be afraid to use therapy, during the transition. Therapy helps. Today, Kutu-Akoi is a certified licensed life coach with plans to impact the Liberian athletes that come after her.

Additional Tips
  • Ask Questions
  • Confirm Answers (*especially international Liberian athletes)
  • Study Your Sport
  • Study Other Athletes
  • Study The Records
  • *Women “Use your voice. If you don’t have one, find it because it is a beautiful thing.”

Kutu-Akoi has enough stories to fill a book, like the team’s impromptu shopping trip for an alternative to the over sized gowns that the lady’s were supposed to wear at the Opening Ceremony; or her unfortunate detainment in a South African deportation prison on the way to an Olympic qualifier, which led to her brief and awkward meeting with former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Overall, she has a strong faith, an unwavering love for her country, and an unbreakable family-bond with her Olympic teammates. She has given back  to Liberia through athletic shoe drives and plans to do so much more.