By Jacob A. English
Athletes. We spend most of our lives dedicated to a sport. The sport enlivens us, it breaks us, it knows our strengths, and it knows our weaknesses. We are connected to the sport. We are enamored by the competition and enveloped by the camaraderie. So, what happens when we leave our sport? What happens when we let that love go - especially, when we've competed at the highest level of our sport? How do we leave - healthily?
You don't have to be an athlete to know what it feels like to transition from something that you love - whether voluntarily or involuntarily. So, how do you do it?
I think that you take all the passion, commitment, and discipline you had in your [insert previous profession] and transfer that energy to a new adventure. You are the same person, but with a different focus. Your gifts remain the same.
Our next feature will share the story of one of our favorite Olympians, who is currently navigating a transition out of a professional Track and Field career.
For Chambers Features highlights the journeys of folx in our community, who let us in on their journey. We hope that a peek into their journey will help you along your own.
Next Up - Two-Time All-American, Three-Time Ivy League Champion, Columbia University School Record Holder in the Outdoor 200m, 400m, and Distance Medley Relay, Olympian, now, Entrepreneur and Fashion Influencer, Akua Obeng-Akrofi.
Check out her story below!
Let’s start with something a bit abstract. Who is Akua Obeng-Akrofi?
Akua Obeng-Akrofi, Instagram 2020
Wow! Such an abstract question certainly requires an abstract answer lol. I am who I am in the moment that I am existing-- it's hard to put an exact definition on it because I know and see that I am constantly changing and growing. I am someone who is curious about the world and life. I am open to new perspectives and schools of thought, willing to change my stance on things if the argument hits strong enough. I am a blend of both Ghanaian culture and American culture. I am creative. I am wise beyond my years, but still sometimes oblivious to the most obvious things. I am funnyyyy. I am going to choose pasta every time. I am constantly looking for ways to uplift and create opportunities for Black people. I am focused on building generational wealth. I am a woman who believes car rides are meant for good music and showers are meant for your most groundbreaking thoughts. I am connected in community. I am nothing without God and everything for my family.
You are a former D1 Track and Field athlete. Tell us about your experience as an athlete.
My experience as a D1 athlete at an Ivy League University was different than what you might imagine for the next level of competition, but it taught me a lot and provided me with a great number of opportunities. I chose to compete at Columbia University because I was looking for a balance of both athletics and academics, with the understanding that I wouldn't be running forever and needed to set myself up post-athletics. What I found through my college experience was that my desire and fire to be successful was directly related to how bad I was willing to work for it-- juggling the life of a student-athlete was a sport in and of itself! Professors did not provide lee-way for meets, training resources were not always the best comparable to other schools and New York had snowwwww. But despite all of this, my experience at Columbia only re-affirmed both my grit & discipline and the hard work definitely paid off! I was recruited by the Ghana National Team in 2015 as a sophomore and in 2016, I had the opportunity of participating in the Summer Rio Olympics which was undoubtedly one of the most *incredible* experiences of my life. So while my collegiate experience wasn't what I imagined, it was exactly what I needed.
Receipts (excuse me) - Some of Akua's Track and Field Records, Columbia Athletics, 2021
You will always and forever be an Olympian. Not many people can say that. Tell us about your experience at the 2016 Olympics.
The Olympics was a living dreammmm. Not only did I have the opportunity to meet some of the people I have been truly inspired by (Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and Usain Bolt to name a few), but I got to learn about the journeys of so many others who were sacrificing and dedicating so much towards their sport - it was truly life changing. What’s funny is that from high school, I always said I was going to go to the Olympics and that was my goal, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how if you had asked me. And that’s just how faith in God works. Being at such an elite stage with so many other talented and hard working athletes just intensified my passion in the sport and gave me a greater appreciation for athletics.
So, you aren't competing anymore. Discuss your transition out of your sport.
I had every intention of competing in the 2020 Summer Olympic games and was training for them before COVID-19 hit. At that point, I was faced with a decision to either continue my training for another year or hang up my spikes and focus on my corporate career. Ultimately, I decided it was time to turn the page and focus on the next chapter of my life. I am very proud of how far I've come in track & field and will always be grateful for the lessons it has taught me-- many that I use to this day. I'm currently working in the tech space now and really excited for the best that's yet to come.
For this next chapter, you are establishing yourself as an entrepreneur. You are the co-founder of Women Believe Everywhere, Inc. How did you all come up with the name? What is the purpose of the organization?
Women Everywhere Believe, Inc. or WEBelieve for short stemmed from Chelsea and I's frustration of what seemed to be the silencing and overshadowing of Black women and our stories. The spread of police brutality through the media was at an all time high and yet, all we saw were the men-- nobody was "saying her name". WEBelieve is focused on training the next generation of civic and corporate women leaders, while centering the voices of women of color. The basis of our foundation is rooted in the belief that women everywhere should have a seat at the table-- because not only is it owed to us, it is deserved.
You've also started another business venture. Tell us about "The Raw."
THE RAWWWW! The Raw is a platform that my best friend Micheline and I started as a way to connect with our community and provide the space for authentic and genuine conversation - conversation that we knowwwww everyone is having in our close friend circles, but maybe not aloud to the people who need to hear it. We have a YouTube channel where we we bring nothing but jokes, the real tea, and our strong opinions on all topics and events that we roll out through the year. Since launching the Raw, we’ve hosted two virtual date auctions which were both huge successes and greattt entertainment (proceeds of the first auction went to Meals on Wheels Atlanta!) and have many more initiatives on the horizon. We are so grateful for how quickly we have been growing in the short year since launched and thankful to everyone who has been rocking with us!
The Raw on YouTube, 2020
You are definitely a woman of many talents. How do you stay motivated?
I am inspired daily by the people in my circle who are exceeding all expectations, women in the past who have made history and paved the way for me and the people who are making strides in the spaces where I am striving to do the same. This alone, easily serves as motivation for me to continue molding my crafts and taking risks to bet on myself. All in all, I am so grateful for my village that continues to pour into me so that my well never runs dry.
What was one of the most formidable challenges that you faced, and how did you overcome it?
When I got to college and started competing, I began to feel the weight of expectations heavy. The expectations of my coaches to win titles, the expectation of myself to run faster each time and set new PRs and the expectation of others to live up to who my potential said I should be. So naturally, this pressure began to manifest as performance anxiety. The fear of not living up to all of the expectations affected my love for the sport and it wasn't until I started seeing a sports psychologist on campus that I overcame this feeling. The mind is a very powerful thing and everything that we believe about ourselves stems from it. Once I learned how to separate doubt from my reality, I was able to get back to enjoy running like I had before.
Now, of course, we have to talk about fashion and style because 1) you are absolutely stunning and 2) you have impeccable taste. How would you describe your style?
What is your favorite thing about For Chambers?
I love the mission! It's really important for us to understand the value of our own unique journeys-- especially in a time where it is so easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to the lives we see on social media. The messaging behind For Chambers is one that any person can get behind because it is relatable to all of us and that unifying aspect is what shows through evidently, even while screaming "dare to be different".
Akua wearing her Love Shirt, 2021
Lastly, what advice do you have for folx starting something new this year?
Literally just start! We can get so caught up in the planning and planning until it's perfect, but you know what they say... vision without action is only a dream. And when you finally do start, remember to give yourself some grace. Many of us are our own biggest critics and that can cause us to miss the little victories along the way. There is always room and time to correct the things that may not work off hand, but you won't actually know what they are until you start. One thing that I've found to be really helpful for me is confiding my plans to start something with the people who are closest to me. Once I say it outloud, I'm cementing the fact that my intention is to start and I create accountability partners in the process.
YouTube: The Raw