Featured image: Akeem Sirleaf (North Carolina A&T Track).
With less than a year remaining until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Liberia’s athletes are reaching the mark that will allow them to represent the Lone Star on the biggest athletic international stage. U.S. based and Division 1 sprinter, Akeem Sirleaf, has earned a spot on the Liberia Olympic team. 2019 has been a year of growth for Sirleaf who actually achieved his qualifying mark back in May when he set a new Liberian 200 and 400 meter record, and ranked 26th in the world.
Go Team Liberia had the opportunity to speak with Sirleaf about making Liberia’s Tokyo 2020 Team.
Go Team Liberia: First off, Congratulations on qualifying! How do you feel about that?
Akeem Sirleaf: I mean, a lot of people have been asking me that question. So it’s like, I’m excited, but at the same time I have more work to do. Just because I qualified doesn’t mean anything.
GTL: What have you been doing to prepare?
Sirleaf: When I was back in Junior College, my coach helped me prepare to come to D1. Then when I came to D1, my coach, Duane Ross, helped me out a lot. First, he fixed my mechanics and how to get my feet down faster. He calls it “pull the track to you, not just run […] pull the finish line towards you don’t just run to the finish line,” and that’s what I’ve been working on these past years; that’s what has been helping me.
GTL: What first brought you to track?
Sirleaf: When I was in Philadelphia, my older cousins ran track and I saw them running fast so I wanted to try it out. I didn’t start doing track until the seventh grade. When I moved from Philadelphia to Minnesota, I tried out for the team, ended up making it, and I’ve been doing track ever since. My first love was football but after high school when I was looking for a college and the coach told me I get to choose one or the other; either track or football. I won’t say I was good at track but it was second nature to me so I just stuck with it.
GTL: As a D1 athlete, what’s your motivation?
Sirleaf: My mom. Raising three kids on her own being a single mother. That motivates me everyday. Seeing all the hard work she put in on me and my siblings. It motivates me everyday to keep going. Cause I’m doing this so she could not worry no more.
GTL: How has she supported your track career?
Sirleaf: Aw man! Ever since! Ever since I started running. She will motivate me. She will tell me, always pray before you run, always give God everything cause without Him none of this would be possible and just stay positive, stay level-headed and go do what you do best.
GTL: What are your hopes and accomplishments when it comes to track?
Sirleaf: What I want to accomplish this year, which is my senior year, is graduate get my bachelor’s in Liberal Arts. Then the goal is to sign a professional contract.
GTL: What does qualifying for Liberia’s Tokyo 2020 Team mean to you?
Sirleaf: It’s a tremendous accomplishment. If you would have told me, what? Four years ago that I was going to be doing all this, making the Liberian team to run at the Olympics. I wouldn’t believe it and I wouldn’t believe you. It’s a tremendous experience… cause, I didn’t have that much confidence in myself back then as I do now. The confidence grew over the years such as having positive people around me, positive people who motivate me, who push me everyday, having great teammates. My confidence is not up there, up there but it’s to a good enough level to where I’m okay I can run with the best. Not just run with the best, but be able to win.
GTL: What are you most looking forward to in Tokyo?
Sirleaf: I’m going there with a mindset to win. And get a medal so everybody can know who Liberia is. Yeah we’re a small country but we’re big at heart. I want everybody to know, it’s not just me I’m doing it for. I’m doing it for the whole country.
GTL: Is there anybody’s career that you look up to?
Sirleaf: It’s a few of them that I went to junior college with. Andre Ewers, that was my roommate back in junior college. I can say he paved the way cause now he runs for Puma professionally, and then Eli Hall he runs for Nike and Red Bull, and then Christopher Belcher. A lot of people like that. Older people I look up to that have been pushing me ever since.
GTL: There are a lot of younger Liberians around the world that will hopefully qualify for future Olympics. What message do you have for young Liberian athletes?
Sirleaf: The message I have for them is if you have a coach, a great coach, or if it don’t seem like it’s working at the moment, don’t give up. Trust the process cause you never know what could happen. You trust the process. You trust the coach. Trust everything he say. Do everything he say. It’s gonna happen. Sooner or later, it’s gonna happen. All the hard work you put in — day in, day out — it’s gonna pay off. But just stay patient and stay positive.
GTL: Is there anything else that you want to say to your supporters?
Sirleaf: I just want to say thank you guys for following me. Thank you for all the support cause without y’all I wouldn’t be in this position. So, thank you all.
GTL: I guess we will end this off on a fun note. What’s your favorite Liberian dish?
Sirleaf: My favorite … cassava leaf is my favorite. My mom knows whenever I come home. She knows. As soon as I come home she goes to the store, gets the ingredients and then prepares it.