striving for greatness while inspiring others

Sekou Kaba, photographed at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility

When we met Olympian hurdler Sekou Kaba a few months ago we were instantly drawn to his big smile and kind nature. We say we love shining light on kind and generous people and Sekou is no exception! He is not only a top athlete and member of the Canadian track and field Olympic team, having represented Canada in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but also an inspiring motivational speaker.

A large part of Sekou’s time is occupied by the continuous training and hard work required of any top level athlete. Like his colleagues, he must be at his physical and emotional best. Another passion of his is sharing his experience with others. An eloquent communicator, he speaks at different events as well as local schools on the subject of bullying. Having been uprooted from his native Guinea as a child, he faced tremendous difficulties trying to adapt to a new language and culture. This, no doubt, made him the special individual and great athlete he is today.

Thank you Sekou, for sharing your time and story with us, and for braving the chilly day while posing in your official aerodynamic gear!

© dwayne brown studio  – the  loveOttawa  project

© dwayne brown studio – the loveOttawa project

In your moving article on CBC’s Player’s Own Voice, you speak of leaving your country and coming to Canada in 2007, as a teen, after spending a few years in the US. You felt marginalized and suffered bullying. Do you believe that the challenges you faced at this very formidable time in your life have helped you get to where you are today?

“I do believe those experiences played a part in shaping who I am today and what I stand for. One of the most important things in life is self-awareness. I knew that I was raised to be kind, and I thank my parents for that. I was lucky enough to perfect that trait early and it allowed me to treat people and situations accordingly. I knew the bullying would not last forever, I knew that I would become a better English-speaker. Everything that took place during those “dark” years served as education; on how not to treat people. It fueled me to strive for greatness and inspire others to do the same. I couldn’t have made it this far without the support of all the kind people I have had the privilege of meeting.”

You are a motivational speaker and an inspiration for young people. Is there a person that you looked up to as a youth or that impacted you positively?

“I grew up around so many cousins and uncles who played soccer and were great at it. I was eager to grow up and handle the soccer ball as well they could. Their favorite teams became my favorite teams. The Brazilian soccer team was the one I latched onto. Ronaldo was my favorite player and I wanted to be a great soccer player like him. When they lost the 1998 World Cup, I was devastated. I refused to eat that day. I was hoping to run into him in Rio but I never had the chance. Maybe someday…”

You chose to be photographed at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility. Why here? What meaning does it hold for you?

”The Terry Fox facility is my oval office from April to November. It’s also home of the Ottawa Lions, a club I have been a proud member of since my arrival in Canada. Just walking into the facility awakens my spirit. Seeing the finish line upon entrance brings back bittersweet moments of the past 10 years. So many vivid recollections of tough training sessions where I collapse after the last set of runs, as well as glorious races, setting personal bests; all those flashes took place at that same exact finish line. Terry Fox is also where the Canadian Track and Field Championships are taking place in July 2017. It will be action packed, as Canada’s fastest athletes showcase their talents for a spot on the 2017 World Championships team heading to London, England in August.”

As you and your fellow athletes prepare for these upcoming championships, and we prepare to cheer you on, is there anything that Ottawans can do to support your efforts as a sports community?

“I’d like more local businesses to get involved in supporting local elite athletes. Through our hard work and sacrifice, we receive the privilege of representing Canada on sport’s biggest stage. Imagine the exposure businesses could gain by associating with us. Fans want to know who our supporters are and word of mouth is very important in business. I am a traveling spokesperson for StrongBars Nutrition and you’d be surprised how many times I get asked, “what are you snacking on?”.

Finally, what do you most love about Ottawa?

“I love the fact that Ottawa is a hidden gem. This city has so much greatness to offer. It’s amazing to step out of the house and clearly notice the multiculturalism. I’ve met so many amazing people from different backgrounds who call Ottawa home. I appreciate being able to travel anywhere within the city in less than 45 minutes. As for healthy eats, I can never get enough of Cozmos Souvlaki on Greenbank. Not only is it close to home but Tony and his team give me a great reason to love Ottawa.”

Thank you Sekou, for sharing your time and story with us, and for braving the chilly day while posing in your official aerodynamic gear!

For more information about Sekou Kaba: and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Thank you, Anita + Dwayne!