By Randy Whetstone, Jr.
America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. When Francis Scott Key was inspired to first write these words on a piece of paper, he was commemorating the courageous effort by those U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry who raised the American Flag on September 14, 1814. It was the celebration of a crucial victory over British forces in the War of 1812.
A couple of centuries later, who would have thought that the words ‘land of the free’ and ‘home of the brave’ would trickle down deep within the heart and soul of a young lady from Côte d’Ivoire, Africa – better known as the Ivory Coast.
This is the story of Marie Ninamou, a sophomore sprinter at Seneca High School.
Since moving to the United States only four years ago, the freedom and opportunity in the land of America has stimulated a spirit of gratitude in the life of Ninamou. Education seemed to be a bit undermined in West Africa. Yet, since being in the States, education has become the primary driving force in her aspirations to excel in life.
“Life from over there [compared] to here is really different. I came here to have a better education, so I have to work hard for it. Education can get me where I want to go.”
As a bilingual student who speaks both French and English, and as one who has earned a 4.0 grade point average, the concept of ‘land of the free’ holds significance in her life. She is elated to be free to learn and be all she can be. But her courage is what makes Ninamou distinct as an individual. A major adjustment, it took bravery to be able to learn English in six months while adapting to the major shift in livelihood between the U.S. and the Ivory Coast. Therefore, just as with education, she ensures to give her all when it comes to track.
“I like doing sports. When I came up here, I practiced hard because I really want to go somewhere in life.”
Ninamou has emerged as one of the elite sprinters at Seneca. She competes in the 100m, 200m, and 400m events with personal bests of 12.26 in the 100m, 25.56 in the 200m, and 56.00 in the 400m. It is safe to say that this young lady is running with purpose not just on the track, but in life as well.
She comes from a family of runners, and that served to be the greatest motivation for her to embark on the sport. Her dad was a sprinter, but never got the chance to be on an athletic team. Ninamou now runs with the family name, exposing many to this inherited athletic aptitude that she possesses.
She has many reasons as to why she runs with purpose both on and off the track. She expressed some of the struggles she faced in West Africa. “Well, it was really hard. We had to work to get food.” Track has helped her in overcoming the psychological hindrances that an impoverished environment can have on someone. She says track is now a positive influence on her life. “It really helps me and motivates me a lot. It makes me want to do more.”
With the inspiring words of Francis Scott Key saturated in the heart of Ninamou, she has been able to serve as leadership to others. She has volunteered at local elementary schools by picking up trash and being a role model to younger children. When asked what the experience meant to her she said, “It really meant a lot to me. I felt like I was setting an example for other people. I want to help people see the difference [in my life] from another person’s life.”
Ninamou says her greatest source of inspiration is her family. “If it wasn’t for my family, I wouldn’t be here to day.”
She aspires to attend the University of Kentucky and become a sports journalist. Another dream of hers is to one day run for Team USA in the Olympics.
This young lady exemplifies what it means to live humbly with gratitude and diligence. She describes herself as, “Unique. What I’m able to do, no one has been able to do. I really work hard for what I want out of life.”
As she continues to run throughout the race of life, she will encourage others to know what it means to run with purpose.