Wolverine Stories: Akwasi Frimpong

As told by David Warr

In Africa we say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Without UVU and the amazing people that helped me, I would not be where I am today.

Akwasi Frimpong

Photo by Gabriel Mayberry


I was born in Kumasi, Ghana, in February 1986 to my mom and dad, both hardworking people who were looking for a better future for my older brother and me. When I turned 3 years old, my mom left for the Netherlands in search of a better future for us. She promised that if she found a job and a place to live, she would come back for us. My brother and I stayed with my grandmother and eight other cousins in a small 4x5-meter room, and all of us slept on a concrete floor, including my grandmother. We were extremely poor. My grandmother would sell her African cloth and traditional wear so she could buy food and feed us. The only way we knew that it was Christmas was not because it was snowing, but because it was the only day that we could drink a full bottle of Coca-Cola and eat a whole egg. Although we did not have much, we had each other, and that was such an important thing for us. When I was around the age of 8, my grandmother told me something that has helped me to push through tough times. She said, “Akwasi, what you need for success is already in you, it’s a matter of believing in yourself, having the will to work hard, and to never giving up.”

In January 1995, my mom kept her promise. She found a place to live, and she had two jobs: cleaning hotel rooms and working in a flower store. She raised enough money for my brother and me to live with her and start our lives in the Netherlands, and we thought life would be perfect. Life was better, but for 13 years we still experienced something very intense — we were illegal immigrants. As such, we could not go to school, see doctors, and live normal lives.

I discovered track and field in the Netherlands at the age of 15, and sports became my coping mechanism. That is where I learned to deal with winning and losing, overcome adversity, made great friends, and learned the Dutch language even better. More importantly, it taught me that I was good at something, despite being an illegal immigrant and not feeling like people treated me right. I ran my first national championship race in 2002, running the 60-, 100-, and 200-meter sprints. Each race I came so close to victory and lost by only a fraction of a second. After the end of the season, I asked my coach what I could do to be great on and off the field — and how I could win a gold medal. He talked to me about self-discipline and being accountable to myself. From that moment on, I started working extra hard, waking up early in the morning, and pushing myself throughout the day. In 2003, after two years of competing in track and field, I became the Dutch junior champion in 200-meter sprints by .01 seconds. That was a special moment for me, and it is where my dream of competing in the Olympics was born. I believed in myself, my coach believed in me, and he told me that he believed I could someday become an Olympic athlete.

I started training for the Olympics, and I still tried to be my best on and off the field as an athlete. We did a lot of community projects, took part in track and field events at local schools, and partnered with clinics to help people.

In 2004, my parents were still going through tough times, and I was trying to get into college. I had one of the highest GPAs in my class, but it was not enough. I was still an illegal immigrant, and I did not have the right paperwork to apply for college. Eventually, the principal of a vocational school called the Johan Cruyff Institute took a chance on me and accepted me into his school. After a few years of studying there, I remember approaching him and saying, “I really want to show my God-given talents as an athlete, and the Netherlands is not working out. I’m still an illegal immigrant, and I can’t travel with my team to training camps and international competitions.” He helped me to look for colleges and universities in the United States, and I got accepted to Utah Valley University, Michigan, Arizona State University, and some others. UVU gave me the best scholarship and opportunity to compete as an athlete, so, in August 2008, I hopped on a plane from Amsterdam to Salt Lake City.

UVU gave me a home to be myself and allowed me to excel as a student-athlete. It was as if UVU saw my inner potential and tried to squeeze all of it out of me to reach the next level. I had great professors, teammates, colleagues, mentors, and coaches that helped me feel that I was a part of the UVU family. Being in classes with like-minded, ambitious people that had the same tenacity and personality to persevere gave me the support system that I needed. I owe my coaches so much for the principles of discipline and endurance that they ingrained in me. I should never forget to give credit to the professors that allowed me to go to practices and competitions and worked with me to succeed in their classes. I had a good GPA for an athlete who trained and traveled a lot, so I want to give huge credit to my professors and coaches. In Africa we say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Without UVU and the amazing people that helped me, I would not be where I am today. I graduated with honors in marketing with a minor in business management in 2013.

While attending UVU, I still had the dream of competing in the Olympics. I would make sure that I did my homework on planes and buses so I could compete as an athlete and actively pursue my dream. I was training in track and field as well as bobsledding. I remember a time that my professors allowed me to go to New York to take part in the Winter Olympic trials. Although I had the talent and the drive to compete in the Olympics, I passed through a lot of adversity before making my dream a reality.

The first time that I missed being in the Olympics was in the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London due to an injury behind my knees. This was hard for me, but I pushed through and was a part of the Netherlands’ bobsled team competing in the 2012-2013 World Cup season. I was hopeful that I would be able to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, but the Netherlands had two bobsled teams — and the other team qualified. I was devastated for not making my dream become a reality for the second time. Luckily, I had my degree in marketing and business, so I was able to work and continue to train. I owned a Kirby Vacuum distributorship and I did well, becoming the top vacuum salesperson in 2014and one of the fastest promoted distributors in the history of the company. In 2016, the same coach that coached me on the Netherlands’ bobsleigh team recruited me to compete in the skeleton — a sport where you go headfirst down an icy track at 90 mph with your chin only a few centimeters from the ice.

That same year, I returned home to Ghana and founded the Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation of Ghana, later deciding that I would compete for Ghana in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. The business skills that I had developed at UVU helped me to fast-forward the process of founding this organization. I trained as hard as I could and achieved my dream when I qualified for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. I was the first black male skeleton athlete from Africa, and the first from Ghana and West Africa to compete in the sport of skeleton.

Since taking part in the Olympics, my life has changed for the better. I have become a global influencer, looking to spread hope and help people achieve their dreams like I achieved mine. I am grateful that I can inspire others. I want to leave behind a legacy of helping others to chase their dreams by surrounding themselves with good, likeminded people, and to not only have goals, but write their goals down, look at them every day, ponder on them, and work hard to achieve them. I just want to see so many people achieve their dreams. I want people to believe that whether they want to become a doctor, lawyer, businessperson, or Olympian, anything is possible with arduous work and perseverance.

People always ask me, “Who are you, Akwasi?” and I tell them, “I am a father and a husband first, then an Olympian. I’m an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a public speaker.” I have an amazing wife and daughter who are so supportive of me in everything that I do and help me to keep my feet on the ground. My wife is the real MVP, without her a lot of the things that I do would not be possible, so I am super grateful for an amazing, supportive wife. I am the owner and president of Golden Events Management, an online marketing and event planning resource, and the cofounder of Frimpong sportswear. I love to be involved in the community, and I recently helped send 1,000 face masks to Ghana in partnership with Forever Living Products International. I am a global athlete ambassador for Right to Play, a global organization that helps children to rise above poverty. I also volunteer with a homeless shelter outreach program in Utah called A Tall Order.

I am so grateful for everything that UVU taught me, and I want to give back as much as I can. I am part of the UVU Alumni Board of Directors, UVU Student-Athlete Network, and vice president of the UVU Alumni Woodbury School of Business Network.

Earlier this year, I took first place in the USA Western Regionals competition in Park City, Utah. In doing so, I became the first African athlete to win a skeleton race. This victory proved my abilities and showed me that I am on track to compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics. I am focused on qualifying for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing and achieve the dream of 1.2 billion African citizens by winning the first Winter Olympic Games medal for Africa. I call my mission, “The Hope of a Billion.” Challenging work and the perseverance to keep going are always needed in everything that you do. You need to know that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel, and if you keep pushing through, you will reach your goals. Remember, anything is possible.