Tobi Fawehinmi in action during the Men's T47 Long Jump Final at the IPC World Para Athletics Championships 2019 Dubai on Nov. 11, 2019 in Dubai.
Tobi Fawehinmi was once the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field team. At just 16 years old, Fawehinmi was still in high school when he qualified for the 2012 Paralympic Games. But now as he approaches his third Paralympics, Fawehinmi wants to be a mentor to the next generation of Para athletes.
Fawehinmi grew up with the mentality of ‘if you can do it, I can do it too.’
“Growing up with a disability’ or even being different in some way, it was already an ordeal,” he explained. “Everyone wanted to baby you, hold your hand and put limitations on you before you were even able to prove anything.”
Fawehinmi spent his early years in sports competing against able-bodied athletes. In fact, it wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he heard of the Paralympics and adaptive sports for the first time. He was competing at a high school track meet at Texas Christian University when he was approached by a man and handed a business card. The man mentioned the Paralympics and encouraged Fawehinmi to learn more about them.
“I read the card and instantly saw the words disability and sports. I was like ‘disability sports?’ I’m cool,” he laughed. “As soon as he turned around and walked away, I threw away the card.”
But with further encouragement from his coaches, Fawehinmi made the decision to learn more about the Paralympic movement and adaptive competitions. He flew to Arizona to compete at the Desert Challenge, his first adaptive competition. And for him, that’s when everything changed.
“I was in awe. I couldn’t even compete myself because I was so amazed by everything going on around me.”
Fawehinmi went on to compete at the collegiate level for the University of Texas - Arlington. While for many the jump to college competition is an adjustment, for Fawehinmi it was a lot of the same. He had spent his high school years competing on the national stage, which prepared him early on for the intensity.
“My mindset was, I had an opportunity to get my education and do the thing that I love at the same time,” he said. “It was a time to challenge myself and have as much fun as possible.”