U.S. Paralympics Tra... Features Tobi Fawehinmi Empha...

Tobi Fawehinmi Emphasizes The Most Important Part Of Competing: Having Fun

By Sheridan Powell | Sept. 17, 2020, 4:39 p.m. (ET)

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.” 

Just like one man came up to me and sold me on the Paralympics, I want to do that same thing for other individuals.

And for Fawehinmi, fun is the whole point. As the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic Team in 2012, Fawehinmi received a lot of advice and guidance from older members of Team USA. Among the most influential was the importance of having fun. 

“At the end of the day, this is a job. And once you lose that love and passion, it gets so much harder to get the job done,” Fawehinmi explained. 

So he’s made it his mission to pass that same advice on to the new generation of Team USA members. 

“As a young person, you put a lot of pressure on yourself. It’s all about proving that you’re good enough,” Fawehinmi said. “I just want to show them that of course this is important, but make sure you’re still having fun along the way.” 

Fawehinmi’s introduction to the Paralympic community came at a fairly young age, but he emphasizes the importance of continuing to expose young kids to the Paralympic movement. 

“When I was a kid, I didn’t know that there was this entire world out there. I didn’t know the Paralympics even existed,” Fawehinmi said. “Just like one man came up to me and sold me on the Paralympics, I want to do that same thing for other individuals.” 

For many Paralympic athletes, continuing to train through the COVID pandemic has been difficult. With even more restricted gym and facility access, they’ve had to get creative. 

“Everybody who is an adaptive athlete has experience in adapting to new ways of doing things, new ways of training, new ways of living life. But now we’ve had to adapt to these new ways of the world on top of that.” 

But, as the promise of competition draws near, what Fawehinmi is most looking forward to is the fun of it all. 

“There’s not even a specific competition or time or finish I’m looking forward to - I’m just ready to have fun again,” Fawehinmi laughed. “Nothing more, nothing less - just all of us together having fun.” 

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Tobi Fawehinmi

Track and Field