Accessibility links

Perseverance Pays Off in African-American Rower's Quest for Olympics - 2004-07-14


Aquil Abdullah is set to become the first African-American male rower to compete for the United States at an Olympics. Aquil Abdullah failed to make the 2000 Sydney Olympics team, but this year with rowing partner Henry Nuzum he qualified for the Athens games in the double sculls.

The road to Athens has not been easy for Abdullah, but his perseverance has paid off. At the 2000 Olympic team trials, he won the first race of a best-of-three final, but got sick and lost the second race, and then lost in the third race by 33-hundredths of a second, denying him a trip to Sydney.

The disappointment helped Abdullah realize that there are more important things in life than rowing. He learned that building relationships with the people he loves are just as important, if not more important than rowing.

"It helped me a little bit to refocus how I live my life in terms of my relationships," he says. "It is very easy to become one-dimensional as an athlete in pursuit of a goal like becoming an Olympian, but it really helped me in that process."

He also had to overcome difficulties with his partner pairing. The Abdullah, 31, teamed up with Henry Nuzum in early 2004, but they did not perform up to their expectations. Four days before the National Selection Regatta in April, they were both looking for different partners. However, they decided to stick together, won their race and they achieved their goal of qualifying for Athens.

Aquil Abdullah started rowing in 1992 after a couple of friends asked if he wanted to try the sport and he has participated in it ever since. As a high school football wide receiver, Abdullah received college football scholarship offers, but decided to pursue rowing after George Washington University offered him a rowing scholarship.

Born in Washington, D.C., Abdullah dreamed of competing in the Olympics as a kid, but he never thought it was possible until he was a college rower. He became the first African-American male to win a rowing national championship when he won the single sculls competition in 1996. He was also the first African American to win the Diamond Sculls Challenge Cup at the 2000 Henley Royal Regatta on the River Thames in England.

Abdullah has traveled all over the country this year training for the upcoming Olympics. He practiced at the Olympic Training Center for five months in San Diego, California and then returned to his home training town of Princeton, New Jersey before heading to Boston, Massachusetts.

In his free time he likes to play the saxophone. While preparing for the Olympics, Abdullah spends his downtime reading or surfing the Internet.

After failing to make it to the 2000 Olympics, Abdullah wrote the book "Perfect Balance" about his quest to make the national team.

He realized while he was writing the book that just because he did not qualify for the Sydney Olympics, he still had something to prove in the sport of rowing.

I did not know if I wanted to continue rowing, but during the whole process of working on the book, I realized that it was something that I needed to continue and that the legacy that I wanted to leave in rowing had not quite been completed yet.

Abdullah hopes that qualifying for the Athens Olympics shows others that sports are for everyone and it is something that they can participate in their entire lives.

"I would hope more than anything my accomplishments in rowing would help people from all walks of life realize that it is a sport for everyone to try and it is a lifetime sport that you can participate in all your life and hopefully it will just bring people from all walks of life into the sport," he adds.

Abdullah and Nuzum are trying to become the first American rowers to win a double-sculls gold medal since Bradley Lewis and Paul Enquist did so at the 1984 Olympics.

Aquil Abdullah is not sure what his agenda will be like after competing at the Athens games. He does plan to back to school and said he might even try being a rowing coach.

XS
SM
MD
LG