Tobi Fawehinmi Still Hasn’t Hit His Athletic Peak
by Nicole Haase
Tobi Fawehinmi competes at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. (Photo: Getty Images)
Tobi Fawehinmi remembers 2012 because he was the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic Team in London, where at age 16 he placed fifth in the triple jump and 10th in the long jump.
It was a stellar debut for the track and field athlete. It was also the last time he recalls having a healthy season, as his body has felt the wear and tear of year-round seasons. But none of that prepared him for the pain he began experiencing in June 2021.
The Arlington, Texas, native began feeling a severe pain in his lower abdomen, but doctors were unable to find the cause. Ultrasounds didn’t reveal any tears. He rested and did rehab work but was no closer to understanding the issue when he traveled to Tokyo in August. Despite increased pain when jumping and landing, he competed in long jump and ultimately placed sixth.
An MRI revealed Fawehinmi had a sports hernia where the abdominal wall or tendons that attach muscles to the pelvis weaken or tear. There were more months of rest and rehab, but he ultimately had surgery to repair the hernia in January 2022.
Ten months later, Fawehinmi believes he’ll pick back up with regular training before the end of the year with an eye toward competing in 2023 and qualifying for his fourth Paralympic Games. And he’ll do so with a completely different outlook on himself and his career.
While he would have liked to learn the lesson without having had to go through more than a year of injury and recovery, Fawehinmi said the down time has forced him to slow down and evaluate his life and his training differently. He’s a veteran competitor but is still just 27 years old. Taking more deliberate care of his body is one of the best ways to ensure longevity in his career.
“It’s been a graceful journey. I’ve been able to learn a lot more about myself through this time,” he said. “I’ve been able to learn more about my body and more about track and field. They say experience is the best teacher. Unfortunately, I feel like I needed the reset. It’s been really good for me.”
Instead of focusing on faraway goals, Fawehinmi has learned to focus on the details and not push everything to the maximum in every moment. There is a time and a place for everything, and he is learning to really listen to his body instead of pushing it for just one more jump or one more rep. He’s being much more intentional about rehab, prehab, warmups, cool downs and mechanics.
“I’ve learned that sometimes less is more,” he said. “If it’s less reps, taking more recovery time, taking more recovery days, that’s what I’m going to do for me to be ready when I need to be ready. I’m not worrying about the timeline. I’m going to put my best foot forward, listen to my body and just have fun.”
It has been a long road, and Fawehinmi wants to make it clear that there are bad days. He went from the top of his game to the bottom and struggled mentally, physically and spiritually. But he also thinks one of his best strengths is his optimism.
“I’ve always felt like the more positive you are through your recovery and rehab, the faster you can come back because the mind is so powerful,” he said. “It’s tough because you’re going to have your down days. You’re going to have your days where you feel like you’re going backwards. But at the end of the day, it’s about the journey. It’s about how you overcome that and the story that you’re going to be able to tell once you’ve accomplished those goals and get where you need to get.”
For an athlete who was trying to convince himself to jump through the extreme pain in Tokyo so that a fault wasn’t his final memory of those Games, slowing down has not come naturally. Fawehinmi moved home to Texas and has been working with a physical therapist he’s known since high school, Tom Kirsch.
The goal is Paris 2024. But it’s also to have fun, grow Para track and field and make his friends and family — and himself — proud.
“I think I definitely haven’t hit my peak yet as an athlete,” he said. “I think those days are still to come. Everybody has to figure out what works for them. Their secret formula. I still think I’m figuring it out, so it’s only going to get better from here. I've just got to keep myself healthy.”