First Up

Sharing his story with others

Sam Effah, arms crossed against his chest, holding a pair of running shoes, against a black backdrop.

Photography by Dave Holland

I was really introverted growing up. I hated to be on stage and make presentations in class. I realized this was something I needed to overcome when I competed in my first World Track and Field Championships in 2009. I walked onto the track at the Berlin Olympic Stadium, and there were 80,000 people in the crowd. If you are not brave enough to speak to your marketing class, how can you perform in front of that many people?

I started out by speaking to youth. I was still an undergraduate student at the time, and started working with an organization called Classroom Champions. They have high-performance athletes teach lessons on skills, goal setting, and perseverance. I did lessons with five different classrooms, once a month. And I saw the impact that it was having on the students – and on me. It was huge for my development. I started to get really comfortable as a speaker, and began speaking to corporate teams, too. Public speaking did help make me more comfortable on the track, but it also turned into a real passion for me.

The first few times I spoke to a class, it was really nerve-racking. When you do not have the experience, you worry about what people will think of you. But kids don’t judge you; they accept you. I learned that if you are authentic and honest, people will respond well. I love to tell stories about my experiences as an athlete, but I always make sure there is a lesson that the students can take from them.

I worked with Classroom Champions for eight years, and when the pandemic hit in 2020, I really leaned into it. The facility where I was training was forced to close, and I was not able to access it, but I still found ways to train. That was a difficult time for everyone, but I knew that my work with Classroom Champions was not only for me; it was for the students, too. So, I continued the mentoring work I was doing via live chats and video calls.

Experiences like this one will help me speak to the adversity that athletes at the Commonwealth Games will face, and I can speak to it from very recent experience. I can talk to the athletes who may not get to compete because something happens. I trained in the same pandemic that they will be competing in, so I can relate to their experience. But you need to bring your best performance, even when the situation is less than ideal. My work with Classroom Champions helped me learn how to share my story with others. I want to use my experience to help elevate people – whether it is students in a classroom or athletes on a track.

When I was growing up, I had my dad as a role model, but I never really had an external “hero.” Public speaking has allowed me to be a role model for people who look like me, who talk like me. I want to show people that even if you do run fast or dribble a basketball really well, you can be so much more than that.

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