Written By Guest Blogger Ticha Pfupajena
There’s a quote I heard somewhere that has stuck with me “Opinions are like armpits – everyone has them, and some of them stink”. This is especially relevant now during the current coronavirus pandemic as everyone seems to have an opinion on something – whether it’s wearing masks in public or people who still think the virus is a hoax.
In spite of all the madness going on globally, there has been plenty to celebrate and the story below is one such example. Saheed Adebayo Akinfenwa is a professional footballer who currently plays for English side Wycombe Wanderers. Akinfenwa is known by the nickname “Beast” due to his impressive physique (1.85m, 102kg) but is not to be confused with his Zimbabwean-born rugby-playing counterpart Tendai Mtawarira. During his career he has struggled to get football clubs to take him seriously with some saying he’s “too big for football”. The other comment that irritated Akinfenwa was people who said “he does well for his size” because as he rightly points out “I do well because I do well”.
Akinfenwa, grew up in London, and left as an 18-year-old to sign for Lithuanian side FC Atlantas. It was there he had his first experiences of being on the receiving end of blatant racism from opposition supporters, Akinfenwa believes his experiences in Lithuania made him stronger and gave him the confidence to continue his long football career.
“What that experience did for me was realise that there’s not much you can’t achieve once you believe; I’d overcame what I perceived was my darkest moment, and everything else should be a breeze. I stayed in Lithuania, scoring goals, not letting their ignorance and their racist mindsets get me out of the country or put me into my shell.”
On his return to the U.K., Akinfenwa dealt with a different kind of abuse as opposition supporters came up with chants aimed at his weight. Having experienced overt racism in Lithuania, Akinfenwa brushed off the English verbal abuse and said his favourite chant was “You’re just a fat Eddie Murphy” which made him laugh out loud. He admits he’s always been a naturally big guy, which is unsurprising for a guy who has stated his hobbies are “going to the gym and eating Nando’s”.
On Monday 14 July 2020, 38-year-old Akinfenwa helped his club Wycombe Wanderers win promotion to the Championship (league level immediately below the English Premier League) for the first time in the club’s history. After the match, he gave a heartfelt and emotional speech in a post-match interview which has since gone viral.
“For me, life and football is all about opinions. Four years ago someone gave an opinion on me and that was their opinion. I hope my story shows that the only opinion that matters is the opinion that you have about yourself.”
Throughout his career Akinfenwa has been derided and doubted, but he has never lacked confidence that he would be successful. He has defined his mindset as Beast Mode State of Mind – a philosophy that encourages one to believe in themselves and to escape others limitations.
“The Beast Mode State of Mind is something that’s been with me for years, and it’s the state of mind I’ve been able to use to get me where I am today”.
What does this have to do with running?
There are several examples of this Beast Mode State of Mind in runners. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila competed without shoes because those issued to him by the team hurt his feet. Most people had never heard of him before but running barefoot through the streets of Rome, Bikila won the gold medal in the marathon setting a new record in the process and becoming the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal.
In 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer made history when she defiantly became the first woman to officially run in the Boston Marathon. The race itself is infamous for the reaction of Jock Semple, a race official who jumped off the press bus and tried to stop her. In her words, “A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” Then he swiped down my front, trying to rip off my bib number, just as I leapt backward from him.” She completed the marathon only to be told at the end by aggressive journalists that “Real women don’t run.”
Finally, we have Botswana’s Isaac Makwala who was competing at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London when he was withdrawn by organisers from the 200m and 400m heats who suspected that he had norovirus which had affected a number of athletes. Insisting he was fit, he turned up at the stadium before the 200m race only to be ordered to leave by IAAF officials. After uproar from the Botswana camp, he was given an unexpected reprieve two days after his scheduled race when the IAAF said he could run. However, in order to reach the semi-finals, he had to run alone, within 20.53s and in the pouring rain! Digging deep, he sped round the wet track in 20.20s and then did his trademark push-ups at the finish.
These are only a few examples, and there are countless stories of ordinary runners around the world fighting different challenges, self-doubt and nay-sayers to reach personal goals they’ve set themselves. My friend The Gaborone Runner has come a long way in her journey as a runner. From humble beginnings as someone who wanted to lose weight and get fit, to running her first half marathon and currently training to run her first full marathon. Throughout her development as an athlete, The Gaborone Runner has shared a lot about not only her successes and achievements, but more critically (in my opinion) her difficult and challenging moments with readers of this blog.
The Gaborone Runner, like Adebayo Akinfenwa, has successfully incorporated the Beast Mode State of Mind as her running philosophy. The beautiful thing about the Beast State of Mind is that it can apply to exercise, to work, to relationships – in fact it can apply to anything in life.
As a popular athletic company stated “Impossible is nothing”. What’s your excuse now?
Linking up with: Kooky Runner and Zenaida on Tuesday Topics as well as the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, Running on Happy and Organic Runner Mum.