The Long Read Jackson is all action

Young Abeiku Jackson wants to be to swimming pools what a dolphin is to the thalassic world - but with all the speed and the medals, writes Pulse Ghana’s Fiifi Anaman.

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It’s a Thursday. Late afternoon. Sunset. The Burma Camp Leisure Center, an epicentre of sporting buzz, is alive, breathing with activity. I’ve been observing the training session of The GH Dolphins, which is a sort of support group for Ghana’s finest league of aquatic addicts.

Kidding.

It is in fact Ghana’s premier Swimming Club. From the side of the pool, I scan the swimmers, a kaleidoscope of hopeful pre-teens and teens, boys and girls, big and small, talented and talented. They are seated by the pool, draped in towels, a warm sense of happy camaraderie palpably woven amongst them. They are waiting for their turn to dive into what is quite literally their home.

I’ve come here to see him, the boy, the captain of the club. As far as Ghanaian swimming goes, he’s high profile, boasting 13 national swimming records and over 30 gold medals in various international age –based competitions. I have not physically set eyes on him before - I’ve only seen him strike his strokes and talk his truth on T.V and online. I’m after him for a chat, but I’m not quite sure I’d easily make him out. Do I go for ask-and-be-shown or observe-and-guess? I settle for the latter, just for the thrill of it. Ironically, it later turns out to be the easier option. He is too distinct. His talent would eventually turn him in.

A few minutes earlier, after failing to spot him amongst the swimmers seated, I came to a conclusion: surely, he must be either one of the two swimmers currently in the pool, in the middle of a 25m sprint session. A split second later, it wasn’t hard to tell which one it was too. His hands spun with the fury of fan blades riled by the highest setting on its regulator, slapping the water, splashing it upwards and sideways. It was loud, soliciting some wows. “Have you noticed the energy in there?” a parent observed in a conversation with another.

Something was in there alright. The boy was way ahead, in the clear, pulling away from his competitor with a blend of latent ease and blatant speed.

Where the training magic happens: Burma Camp Leisure Center play

Where the training magic happens: Burma Camp Leisure Center

 

Climbing out of the pool, he becomes fully visible. His headgear - coloured green, yellow and blue – immediately gives his identity away: it boldly bears the colours of the country he’d been in just a few weeks ago, making history for himself and for his country, for his club and for his family. But, even without it, anyone would still recognize him, still recognize something special. “You don’t need to be told that this is a champion, a special swimmer,” says Chantal da Silveira, who is seated a few blocks away from the pool, observing. Chantal is a ‘Dolphins Parent’. Her daughter, Mayra, who is eight, is part of the club, part of the many kids that this boy mentors and inspires. Chantal, who moved to Ghana from France a year ago and enrolled her daughter with the Dolphins to “make her happy”, says that no one had to tell her that this boy was the star of the team. “You just know,” she simply declares, smiling.

But even if you don’t know, the clues fly at you. Take his physique for starters. It's matured, torso ripped and taut, limbs brawny– and though this is usual for a swimmer, it certainly is unusual for a 16-year-old. It also isn’t a gift of nature, but rather a result of the toil of nurture, spanning over a decade of dedication to fitness – he has been training with frightening frequency ever since he made his competitive debut at the Tesano Sports Club, aged 5. Throw in the fact that he has a personal nutritionist, and you get the picture: he is on a mission, and his caretakers are in no mood to leave any stone unturned.

READ ALSO: Rio Olympic Games Ghana places last in women’s 4x100 relay

Now, walking behind the other swimmers, it is easy to notice a quiet swagger about him. There is charisma. There is confidence. He is drying himself with his towel, engaging in small talk with his teammates. Occasionally, he laughs at a joke, teases a teammate, or quickly passes on some swimming tips to the younger ones with brief but graceful gestures. A leader? Looks like one.

A few minutes of wait later, the boy, Abeiku Jackson, is on the curb again, stretching, readying for another session. He dives into the pool and the rest is predictable. For the fourth time that evening, he powerfully glides to a victory. Typically, he doesn’t spare the chance to establish a gap between himself and his competitor, Kwesi Jackson – one of the best swimmers in the country, and who also happens to be his big brother, two years his senior. It is a display that carries an air of breath-taking urgency. And I would know, because there’s something to compare it to, having also watched the others swimmers at work. While there seems to be a painstaking patience about the strokes of the others, all that is discernible is effortlessness when Abeiku Jackson’s in action. It’s second nature. He’s done it for years; almost every single day since he was three years old.

At the finish line, he smiles and looks up at the team’s trainer, Jonathan Amoako-Attah, whose booming voice announces his time, and well as his brother’s.

Just over 12 seconds. Just as he’s done all evening. He is on course.

Where the training magic happens: Burma Camp Leisure Center play

Where the training magic happens: Burma Camp Leisure Center

 

In July this year, in an interview with Image Sports, ‘Abey’ – as he is affectionately called by his family and friends - was upbeat. A big event loomed. A milestone, an indelible achievement. And he had worked his socks off for it. “If you have the talent for any sport, I’ll entreat you to commit to it; Trust me, you’ll go far,” he said.

He fit the part, had practiced what he had preached. He had had the talent, committed to it, and had gone far. His words, directed at fellow athletes who dreamt of experiencing his privilege, carried meaning and emotion.

He was talking from experience. “It was a dream; I had the talent, and I just trained for it.”

In August, that dream was streamed in live action and full colour. Abeiku dove into the glory of the Olympic pool in Rio, prompting physical and symbolic ripples. At 16, he had been given a taste of the highest, most prestigious level of aspiration for anyone in his discipline. At 16, he had become the first male Ghanaian swimmer at the Olympics.

In lane eight of his 50m freestyle heat, Abeiku emptied his reserves of strength and endurance, battling against the turbulence. Back at home, his family watched on in anxiety and pride.

READ MORE: Rio 2016 Team Ghana arrives at Rio Olympic Village

“Pride maybe an understatement,” Kwesi recalls. “Words can’t describe how I felt. It was intense! Eyes glued on the T.V, hearts in our mouths. We were so excited. It was a happy and emotional moment for us all.”

“I was super excited,” Jonathan says, his eyes lighting up. “The Goosebumps you get seeing a swimmer from Ghana, from your club, swim at the Olympics? Man, it was amazing.”

“I was so happy for him,” adds Kow, 14, the youngest of the Jackson brothers – who is also one of GH Dolphins’ top swimmers. “I was also scared for him too. But he did his best.”

His best was a 6 place finish – a position that signalled an early elimination. Overall, he placed 55 out of 85 competitors. “I think I did my best,” he sighed, speaking the journalist Erasmus Kwaw in a post-swim interview.

But not everyone seemed to think so. His performance was generally met with a lukewarm response back at home. On social media, young Ghanaians embraced the kneejerk, alluding to a case of hype without substance. Hype, mainly because his over 30 gold medals had hogged headlines prior to his departure, exalting him to a level that inspired tight trust and high expectation from a population that hardly follows swimming. From the outside, it felt easy to have high hopes – Abeiku’s record was too seductive, too enticing, too exciting.

But the negativity was largely uninformed. It was unfair, too. There were positives. There was always bound to be, if people were interested to see. Abeiku finished with a time of 24.30 seconds – which was his lifetime personal best. And, for crying out loud, this was a 16-year-old. Even in swimming, a sport where being young and awesome is common (Abeiku’s Team-Ghana female teammate, Kaya Adjoa Forson, was 14 at the Olympics – and there was even a 13 year old from Nepal), being 16 at the Olympics is still pretty tough, still big deal.

And, while competing would have been a daring, admirable feat, it was the experience of the big time that was always going to be the biggest win. This was the hook; the bigger picture. One that was missed by many.

Where the training magic happens: Burma Camp Leisure Center play

Where the training magic happens: Burma Camp Leisure Center

 

In August 2000, a 15-year-old swimmer from Baltimore, Maryland, became the youngest American swimmer to qualify for the Olympics since 1932. In his qualifying event, the 200 meter freestyle at the U.S Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Indiana, the young boy – who cited his hobbies as “hanging out with friends, playing video games and listening to rap music” - finished second to his compatriot, Tom Malchow, who was then the world record holder.

A month later, at the Olympics in Sydney, the boy managed to make it past heat and semis, right into the final, where he finished fifth, with Malchow expectedly grabbing gold.

SEE ALSO: Rio 2016 Team Ghana opens training in Brazil [Photos]

To get the point of this story, though, the essence of it; we would need to rewind all the way back to those qualifiers in Indiana. Malchow, who had been to his first Olympics in Atlanta 1996, had said of the 15-year-old boy, whom he had just beaten: “He doesn’t know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it’s going to change his life.”

 

Malchow knew what he was talking about: this was a man who, at the age of 19, had been the youngest member on Team USA’s Swim Team in Atlanta 96’. And so he was in the best position, with all the luxury of experience and hindsight, to offer some words of wisdom to the new kid on the block.

“He’s going to find out soon,” he prophesied.

Oh, the boy did find out. The world did too. And in some style. Fast forward 17 years later and the boy is now a man, now 31, a veteran of five Olympic Games and a custodian of 28 medals, 23 of them gold – a record which makes him the greatest Olympian of all time.

This is Michael Phelps, by the way, in case you haven’t wrapped your brain around it yet. Thee Michael Phelps. An impostor who indeed really is a fish but parades himself as a human. A man who wields an Olympic medal tally which is seven-time Ghana’s entire Olympic medal haul since the country’s debut in 1952 Helsinki Games.

Here’s the thing; Abeiku Jackson – who unsurprisingly cites Phelps as his major influence - might not exactly turn out to be like Phelps, whose achievements are just stuff of alien might, but there’s enough in his trajectory to suggest he is on the right path. The guy is unto something.

Swimmers normally start making Olympic impact in their late teens and early 20s. Phelps himself, who was 20 at the time of Athens 2004, grabbed 8 medals there, 6 of them gold– and then went on to monopolize Swimming and almost all of its top medals in the years after, only choosing to exercise mercy and generosity with his retirement this year. Malchow won silver at Atlanta 1996 aged 19, and followed it up with that gold in Sydney four years later. Again, have a look at the man who eventually won Abeiku’s event in Rio, American Anthony Ervin: he was 20 when he won his first Olympic medals at Sydney 2000. Four years back at London 2012, the 50m freestyle gold medallist – the French Florent Manaudou, was 22. Four years before then, in Beijing, the 50m freestyle gold medallist, a Brazilian named Cesar Cielo, was 19.

For Abeiku, all these mean that there are precedents, and there is time.

Abeiku Jackson play

Abeiku Jackson

 

The Olympics gave Abeiku Jackson a priceless gift, and if you look closely, it wasn’t the obvious guesses: achieving his personal best or even the mere prestige of participation.

It was, rather, the proximity to the world’s best swimmers - the opportunity to mingle and learn, to be nourished by observation and association. This is what, in 2000, Malchow said Phelps would find out soon: the value in making an Olympics debut as a teen; the early exposure to the highest level. And this privilege can neither be bought nor measured.

Hopefully, Abeiku will find out soon too, what having been at Rio 2016 will mean to him.

Except he already knows.

The possibilities of progressing from his heat or placing on the podium were longshots, but they were on the table nonetheless. Yet, Abeiku wasn’t distracted. A t the back of his mind, he knew he was going to Rio to learn, or, as he aptly puts it, “To know how the top swimmers are, how they train, their relationship with their coaches, their challenges and how they get through them.”

READ ALSO: All you need to know about the home of the Ghana Olympics team

He is smart. He knows being in Rio was a means and not an end, all part of a process, a journey whose peak was and is still yet to come.

In 2011, the Ghana Swimming Association (G.S.A) formulated a 10-year strategy to develop its best young swimmers into World Champions by the 2021 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. At that the time of this plan, five years ago, Abeiku was 11 – and though he had made it a habit of picking up medals at various competitions, he wasn’t the standout Ghanaian male swimmer, wasn’t the one people thought would make that giant stride towards the attainment of the ultimate goal.

But he would be soon. Three years later, he had his first big international break by participating in the Common Wealth Games in Glasgow. The next year – which was last year – he made his World Championship debut at the FINA World Aquatics Championship in Kazan, Russia.

This event also presented a chance for him to launch an ambition to make it to the biggest stage of them all: the Olympic Games.

To qualify, Abeiku had two options. The first: make an Olympic Qualifying Time (O.Q.T) or Olympic Standard Time (O.S.T).

The second: sneak in by a ‘Universality Place’ – a sort of affirmative action method by which the international swimming body FINA allows each country to enter their two fastest swimmers, a male and a female, provided they achieve their time while competing at an official FINA event.

Abeiku failed to make either an O.Q.T or O.S.T in Kazan. In the end, he ranked 70 after his event, beating some 43 other swimmers from around the world. It was, to be fair, not a bad output from a 15-year-old who had trained in Ghana his whole life; a country with many swimming related challenges, from financial to cultural to logistical.

He had failed to make the mark, but there was good news: his time, 24.72 seconds, was a Ghana national record, making him the country’s fastest male swimmer. Add the fact that the Kazan event was FINA sanctioned, and you would have the bingo moment: he had secured his ticket to Rio via the Universality Slot.

Abeiku is four or five years away from the period when swimmers start sporting medals around their necks at the big leagues – which puts him firmly on course for the G.S.A’s 2021 agenda. But there is enough to suggest he might arrive earlier, if the current momentum he has is sustained. Or bettered.

Abeiku at the 2014 Glasgow Games play

Abeiku at the 2014 Glasgow Games

 

What Abeiku has is a strong foundation. His story so far has all the factors that give him the right to be considered for a projection of considerable success. If not greatness.

Talent? Check. Exploits? Double Check. Hard work? Triple Check, italize and bolden. Abeiku’s commitment to training, and his focus whilst at, is wild. It is even visible in his eyes when he is talking about his ambitions. You can’t miss it; that contagious gravitas that possesses his words, making it hard not to listen to him, not to pay attention. It is a Friday evening, the next day, and we are seated on the steps leading down to the pool at the Burma Camp Leisure Center. He has just finished an aerobics session, and his coach has signalled him to be quick with this interview as he has to get into the pool in a few minutes. “Swimming is a talent of mine, but I work really hard on top of this talent because talent alone isn’t enough,” he says.

READ MORE: Rio 2016 How Team Ghana fared at the Olympic Games in Brazil

“Even earlier today, I was texting with Kaya,” he adds, smiling. Kaya Forson is based in Malaga, Spain – where she trains under her father. “And she asked about how my brothers and I are doing, and about how training this morning went. That’s all we do: train, eat, train, eat, train, eat. She knows it, and we even had a laugh about it!”

Train. Two hours per session, twice a day, six times a week, punctuated with frequent hikes up the Aburi Mountain – as frequent as four times a week. Nonstop. Even when there is school. It’s an incredibly trammelling routine for a teenager – a stark contrast from the relative freedom his contemporaries enjoy. His commitment to it, as you can imagine, means he gets to miss the usual fun of adolescence. There is a risk of fatigue and despair too, of boredom even. But he isn’t bothered. “It’s a passion for me, I love it and I want to be good at it. Putting in the work is hard, but it is necessary,” he says.

“To be very good, you have to sacrifice a lot. Abeiku’s lifestyle is limited, but he is a happy kid, always happy to train,” Jonathan observes.

But this – as you may have noticed by now – is no ordinary kid. This is an Olympian: and therein lies the motivation; the source of the drive: there are results, reasons to keep at it.

Aside the results, there are other perks too. Abeiku’s dedication has not been in vain: he’s gotten to travel the world so many times that he’s lost count of his air miles, meeting people and sampling cultures. “It’s almost like a tour,” he beams. At the Olympics, he got to meet and take selfies with Serena Williams and Simone Biles, the global queens of tennis and gymnastics. He also got to see Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter in history, run live.

Ghana's first male Olympic swimmer Abeiku Jackson play

Ghana's first male Olympic swimmer Abeiku Jackson

 

What about Phelps, though? Did he meet him? “I once came within a few blocks of him during a dining session at the village, but I couldn’t get close because there were so many people around him.”

“But watching him was such a great privilege!” he quickly adds. “I learnt a lot. I remember observing him and counting his strokes while he swam. I realized that he has less strokes yet moves so quickly, This means he has a very good arm pull, and exerts a lot of energy on his finishing. Another thing I found useful was his use of headphones to drown out all the noise so that he doesn’t have the crowd distracting him. It’s something I’ve actually started picking up. You don’t want to hear from anyone when going into a race, because you know what you are there for and what you’ve trained for. You have to focus on what you have to.”

For Abeiku, there is a goal that stretches beyond the current results and perks. He wants to get better and better, to push the boundaries of his potential. Or, as he always says, “to drop more and more” seconds off his personal bests. His personal bests are national records too, so by dropping them, he would be raising the bar, blazing a trail.

And he is actually getting better too. Before he took over the 50m freestyle national record, it belonged to a swimmer named Kweku Addo. Addo, who is the brother of two of Ghana’s best female swimmers, Ophelia Swayne and Zenobia Addo, achieved the record aged 16 in 2013: a time of 25.09 seconds, bettering a previously set time of 26.69 held by Kofi Anku.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Rio Olympic Games Know the 16 Ghanaian athletes and what they will be doing

Since taking over, Abeiku has been consistently bossing it, busily trimming it as well. At the World Championship in Kazan last year, he swam 24.72 seconds. At the Romania International Swimming Championship in May this year, he did 24.41, promising to drop it some more in Rio.

He eventually did: 24.30 seconds.

Abeiku derives this ravenous hunger of breathing down the neck of his own records from Phelps. “I see something about Mike Phelps that I think people don’t see,” he had said in an interview with Liquid Sports ahead of the Olympics. “Even though he has more records probably than anyone else, he still goes after the ones he holds. He tries to break them every single day, in training, in competitions. That really motivates me.”

Abeiku at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games play

Abeiku at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games

 

Now sitting across from me at Leisure Center, Abeiku is talking about how he wants to become great, about how, by dropping more and more seconds and micro seconds, he’s steadily matching towards medals and records in the future.

He hails from a background with a history that threatens to inhibit his dreams. Traditionally, West African swimmers have been serial unicorns at the top level, owing largely to a lack of a swimming culture. Even when there is some element of culture to go on, it gets thwarted by the absence of cutting edge training facilities or enabling sponsorship.

A look at the records shows that Africa’s best male swimmers – the ones Abeiku looks up to - are all either from South Africa (Roland Schoeman, Chad Le Clos) or Morocco (Oussama Melloulli). Take the scope further and you’ll find out that being black and being among the swimming elite is a rare, almost incongruous phenomenon. In the U.S.A, the success of Olympic medal winning black swimmers such as Maritza Correia (Athens 04’), Cullen Jones (Beijing 08’ and London 12’) and recently, Simone Manuel (Rio 16’) has been treated with curiosity, because research has shown that certain socio-cultural limitations (racial discrimination hindering access to pools) had over the decades stifled the growth of a swimming culture among blacks. Indeed, every so often when swimming competitions assume the news spotlight, journalistic theses are written ad nauseam about why Black swimmers don’t or can’t swim.

Abeiku is thus a young force dreaming against the odds. And he plans to take it as far as he can. “I normally don’t want to focus on only Ghana. Yes, I’m currently the best here but I want to eventually be the best in the world,” he says. “But first, I have to be the best in Africa. It’s a process, and I’m working towards it.”

To have such character and ambition at his age, and to back it with work, is what makes Abeiku standout. “What I admire about him is how he breaks the pain barrier,” Kwesi says. “He could be feeling a lot of pain, but he just keeps going.”

“He adapts easily to what he is taught, pays attention to detail and always has a killer instinct in terms of aggression anytime he gets into a pool,” Jonathan assesses. “He is always adding things to his swim.”

Abeiku Jackson and Serena Williams play

Abeiku Jackson and Serena Williams

 

“At home, his is always in front of a mirror simulating swimming and watching himself,” adds Kow, laughing. “He is my role model, no doubt. He goes for people and things above him all the time. He sets high targets and doesn’t limit himself at all. He doesn’t back down, doesn’t give up.”

And he doesn’t stop learning too. “Late at night, every day, I’m mostly up watching Youtube videos of swimming,” Abeiku says. “All the time, just to pick up a few things and improve my swim in training the next day. There’s always something new to learn every day, and I always want to get better.”

He aims to be an all-rounder also. “I do all strokes – freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke – and I always try to expand my distances, because I love swimming and love to be in the pool.”

From his speech, it is noticeable how Abeiku only chooses to think of possibilities. He is always positive, always looking forward with hope, always audacious with his goals.

After Michael Phelps last race in Rio, he said, while reflecting on his legendary career, that he had always taught young swimmers to “believe in themselves and not to be afraid to think that the sky is not the limit.” Abeiku clearly gets the memo. “I’m literally just over three seconds away from a world record,” he says, comparing his 24.30seconds personal best in 50m freestyle against the world record time of 20.91 seconds, held by Cesar Cielo.

Three seconds, in a sport like swimming, is a whole lot: something that takes years to knock off, yet here is a boy who talks about it as being ‘just’, as though it can be achieved tomorrow. It is telling, evidence of hard guts. Half full, not half empty: it’s all in a mind-set patronized by champions, and this is a boy who believes he will be one.

We discuss recent happenings in swimming that have inspired him, and the story he chooses comes as no surprise: the story of the 21-year-old Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling.

Schooling pulled of one of the biggest sporting heists this year. He was the only swimmer in Rio who was successful in robbing a gold medal off Michael Phelps, a feat which hitherto seemed as impossible as finding rubbish or crime on the streets of his home country.

This happened in the 100m butterfly event. It shocked the world. “It’s amazing how he won that race,” Abeiku says. “Honestly, before it began, I was thinking Schooling had nothing on Phelps; like he was going to place third or something. I expected Le Clos to battle Phelps for it. I was so surprised when he won!”

There was a poetic backstory to that win. Eight years ago, Phelps and the American Swimming team had made a stop in Singapore on their way to the Beijing Olympics. While there, a young Schooling, who was then 13 and still schooling, got to meet and take a picture with his idol.

After his win in Rio, the picture of both swimmers – the older Phelps in a pose with the awkward yet adorably bespectacled young Schooling - went viral online, accompanied by numerous messages of motivation. Schooling had grown up through eight years of training to finally get to compete in the same pool with his idol. And it wasn’t not just any pool, but the biggest of them all: the Olympics; not just any idol, but one who is also the greatest swimmer in human history. And he beat him. It was stuff you just couldn’t make up. “It made me realize that everything is possible,” Abeiku says.

Abeiku Jackson at the Olympic Games play

Abeiku Jackson at the Olympic Games

 

Many years ago, Kodwo Abbiw Jackson had a dilemma. His sons, the most important things to him, were flirting with water. Eventually, they all fell in love with it, and soon, began craving a life living in pools. And he hated it. But this hatred was a façade. Beneath it was a revealing, vulnerable truth: he was aqua phobic. “I couldn’t stand water,” he recalled in an interview earlier this year. “Even though we were privileged to have a pool in the house growing up.”

His sons, though, came to love water so much that they wouldn’t back down in their efforts of getting him to take them to pools. Eventually, their persistence paid off: he gave in. He decided to use their passion as a means – or an excuse, depending on how you want to look at it – to overcome his fears vicariously. He decided to train all of them in swimming.

Things turned out pretty well. That decision he took ended up changing his life, shaping the destinies of his children and many other kids’.

These days, Kodwo Jackson is a swimming bigshot. Well, not exactly in the pool, but outside of it. He is the General Manager of the GH Dolphins, a club he founded, responsible for the development over 50 young swimmers of different age categories. Apart from being the patron of the best swimming potentials in the land, he doubles as the father of three of the fastest swimmers in Ghana: 18-year-old Kwesi Abbiw Jackson, 16-year-old Abeiku Gyekye Jackson and 14-year-old Kow Asafua Jackson.

He is the man behind the scenes, the one who pulls all of the strings. “It’s all down to him,” says Jonathan. “The mastermind who has put Ghana swimming on the map.”

Yet he is not as popular as his sons, who have been making Ghana proud at various swimming competitions around the world. When I first spoke to him via phone, he joked: “If you don’t want to be popular, I’ll certainly advice you to become a swimming coach!”

“In football, the coaches are all in the limelight, sharing the glory with the athletes – but in our sport, our hard work remains quiet. It’s just something we have to deal with,” he had added.

From the background, Kodwo has designed plans and invested a lot of time and resources into one thing: deliberately guiding the germination of all his gems. His eldest, Kwesi Jackson, started swimming when he was five; competitively when he was six. The next one, Abeiku himself, started swimming when he was three; competitively when he was five. The youngest, Kow, has been swimming ever since he knew what a pool was.

Though he claims he has overcome his phobia, Kodwo will still not get into a pool to save his own life, but this hasn’t stopped him from living most of his life around it. He has trained the Dolphins to many competitions, including the annual Schwimmfest in Arnsberg, Germany – an event at which his club always shines, with Abeiku in particular always owning the spotlight, winning almost every gold medal he competes for.

Though Abeiku seems to have reached the highest heights, the other two brothers of the Jackson dynasty are dynamite too. Kwesi and Kow are medal-winning and record-holding material, impressive cvs to boot, and they are both on course to make it to the World Championships and Olympics in the next few years. “Swimming started out as a hobby for all three of us,” said Abeiku earlier this year. “Now, it has gone international and it is changing our lives.”

Is there a bit of sibling rivalry? Kwesi laughs. “Oh, not at all!” he says. “It’s all fun and games. I mean, if one wins a gold and another wins a silver, it’s all still a victory for the family. In the end, it’s all about bringing medals home for our country, putting smiles on faces, making everyone happy. Making a difference.”

They are close; a trio of happy, humorous boys who train together every day. “We look up to each other and learn from each other as well all the time,” Abeiku adds. “Our family supports us really well too.”

Their school - Soul Clinic International School at East Cantonments– has been very supportive too. “One of my favourite teachers, my English teacher; she always says she feels so proud to be teaching an Olympian!”Abeiku said with a chortle in an interview before the Olympics. “They are very supportive of me and my brothers and this motivates us so much.”

Friends, too. “I have friends who understand my goals and support me,” says Abeiku. “And I’m very thankful for that. There are times when they prevent me from joining them to go out chilling. They tell me, “Abey, you need to train and we understand you. You’ve been doing this all your life’.”

Ghana's first Olympic swimmers play

Ghana's first Olympic swimmers

 

Two years after Abeiku learned to swim, Kodwo Jackson took him to the Tesano Sports Club. The Club was about to have a swimming competition with the Ikoyi Sports Club of Nigeria, and Kodwo wanted their authorities to consider drafting Abeiku into the side.

But they declined. Abeiku was too young, they said. Too skinny. Not ready. They couldn’t risk it, they claimed. Putting such a physically frail five year old in a competitive pool was too overambitious.

Bent on rewarding his son’s talent with early exposure, Kodwo went out of his way, in a show of fierce faith, to personally sign documents absolving the Tesano Club of blame and responsibility in case anything unfortunate happened to Abeiku. It was a big risk. But it was a one that he would live to never regret. One that would pay off big time.

It’s been 11 years since then, and that door opened for Abeiku by his father has since gone on to spark a domino effect, opening many other doors, the latest of which is an Olympic door. There are more doors ahead too, and he’s got the keys – the indefatigable hard work on top of the talent – to open them all.

Today, Abeiku is one of Ghana’s most recognizable athletes, a source of national pride – a bright star illuminating a dim sport. “Abeiku has been special ever since I first saw him swim eight years ago,” Jonathan reflects. “He lives the swim. He has been beating everyone his age and even above in Ghana, Nigeria, Germany, name it.”

“And he’s not going to stop,” he adds. “He’s not going to relax after his Olympics achievement. He has never been held back by the past. For him, it’s always on to the next one.”

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1 Video Tanzanian youngster dies after scoring fantastic goalbullet
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