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Sports Features Wed, 3 Aug 2016

How a dad trained son to the Olympics; A story of Ghana's 16-year-old swimmer

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The story of father Kodwo Abbiw Jackson and son Abeiku Jackson is one that intrigues, one that inspires and will excite every sports fan.

Their father-son family relationship dates sixteen years back, whiles their coach-athlete professional relationship started when baby Abeiku was just 3-years old, and when he had no consciousness to appreciate what more his father meant to him aside providing toffees and hoisting him in the air.

Boxing had Floyd Mayweather Snr teaching his maverick son Floyd Jnr how to box, football had Cesare Maldini coaching his son Paolo to the World Cup, and Baseball had multiple record holder Ryan Weller learning trade from his dad MJ Weller.

Also, there was Tennis star Agnieska Radwanska practising with dad Robert Radwanski, NBA's father-son partnership of Carlton Valentine and Denzel Vanlentine all welcome yet another family into the illustrious fray, with the Jacksons from Ghana flying to the Olympics.

What makes the Jackson's story an extraordinary one though, is the fact that, whiles the aforementioned father coaches practiced the particular sport before imparting on their children athletes, father-coach Abbiw Jackson has never ever swam in his life.

Let me put it as exact as he wants it; he has never been swamped in water before, aside taking a shower or walking in the rain. He was born and is still water phobia.

"I am simply not a fan of water, in fact I was afraid to get closer to a pool even though I was privileged to have one in my house", Coach Jackson told me in an interview at the Kotoka International Airport whiles he filled his son's immigration papers few hours before Ghana's Olympic team emplaned to Brazil.

"I still have phobia for water and it doesn't look like getting better even with my new role", He said.

Swimming has always been a big part of the Jacksons family, with Abeiku's older brother, Kwesi Abbiw Jackson and younger brother, Kow Asafua Jackson all both competitive swimmers.

And Jackson Snr was more than happy to help out his son Abeiku achieve his goals.

The tiny 16-year-old Abeiku Jackson, a student of the Soul Clinic International School in Accra, stood meters away from his dad at the departure lounge of the airport scrolling his phone to see pictures of his friends on Instagram and Facebook.

He was hours away from flying his dad all the way to Rio de Janeiro, for something the latter fears, but aims to help the former at it.

Abeiku Jackson recalls how it all started. How he turned his dad's most frightful experience into his most delightful job.

"Growing up, it was really tough because my dad had a phobia for water and I had loved water but then he saw my passion and determination in swimming and decided to start teaching me how to swim so that's how it started".

"It was quite tough but he coached me and he's still the national coach". So how does a father who doesn't swim, teach a son to swim all his way to the Olympic Games?

It beats me, it beats you, it beats the world and it beats Abeiku as well. He keeps smiling at that question.

"I don't know because I was too young when it started. It later became a hobby for both of us as he started loving it, seeing me swim in the pool and him coaching from outside the pool", Abeiku said with a chary smile.

Turning to the direction of his dad with an approving look, he said, "We have a long relationship, obviously, but a professional relationship too. I've worked with him and know how good of a coach he is and how good of an influence he has had over me,

Too Tiny To Swim

Abbey, as he is affectionately called, has been swimming since the age of 3 and that was in the pool inside his fathers' house. When he finally decided to expand his swimming exploits outside the confines of his comfort zone, it was the neighbourhood’s Tesano Swimming Club that came to mind.

But 'Abbey' would be left heartbroken when staff at the Tesano Club knocked down his plea to join the swimming club. A 3 or so year old boy had a big heart to see a bigger future but the big men had only look at his tiny body.

"I was like 3 years and some months and when we went to the place (Tesano), the management thought I was too skinny and too small to compete and probably something might happen so they decided not to take the risk and not grant me any insurance.

"I was young, but I still remember how heartbroken I was left.

I was only allowed to swim after my dad took responsibility by signing an undertaking that essentially absorbed the Tesano club of any blame in case of any eventuality".

Apparently, the undertaking that changed the life of the boy into a national record holder and a country's first time male Olympic swimmer.

Perhaps, as Abeiku was inspired by Lennox Lewis popular quote, "it is not the size of a man, but the heart that matters".

Abeiku Jackson started competing professionally when he was 5 years. His first international competition was at the Ikoyi Club in Nigeria.

The 5-year old skinny boy from Mankessim who loved to swim could not go to sleep the night before the flight to Lagos. His first time on the airplane it was.

"I remember that night, when I knew we would be flying to Nigeria the next day to compete at the Ikoyi Sports Club".

"It was (he paused and with an expected sigh), it was amazing because this was my first time flying and everyone knows when you're flying, there a shock in you, like when the plane is taking off, the speed it uses, the distance, the height… It’s amazing".

Since then, Abeiku has gone on to become more of a tourist as he puts it. Traveling from one country to the other for high profile competitions, leaving him tired of flying. Tired of flying so much even at age 16.

"Like this year, I have travelled like five times, and last year was over seven and all that long flights and bored on the plan and all that is tiresome now but it's also fun looking back".

National Records & Golden Rise

From the days of the Ikoyi competition, Abeiku Jackson has gone on to win 34 Gold Medals and 1 silver medal at various international swimming competitions he has represented Ghana, including a personal best performance at the Kazan Games in Russia in 2015. He currently holds 14 National Swimming Records in Ghana. A teenager with a massive haul already.

Since Ghana's first outing at the Olympics in 1952 in Helsinki, we have only ever sent Athletics, Boxing, Weightlifting and Football teams.

2016 is going to be a special one with a representation in a special but no so popular a sport. For the very first time that the country will be represented by a swimmers, Abeiku is the first male.

He is young but growing into a man, and already has the big heart being captain of the Gh Dolphins Swimming Club.

Swimming To Rio de Janeiro

Abeiku Jackson has competed with several top swimmers across the world and says the dream has always been to compete at the highest level; the Olympic Games.

He spend time watching world acclaimed swimmers from his collection of CDs and the ambition to reach those heights keeps pumping him every moment of his life.

Going to the Olympics was the target, but you wouldn't expect it to come too soon, at a little over 15.

"In 2015, I competed for Ghana in swimming at the Kazan Championship in Russia which allowed me to qualify for the Rio Olympics through the universality principle as the best participant from my zone"

"It was amazing because you got to see the bigger people in swimming like the Chad Le Clos, the Florent Manaudous and all the top ones you ever see on TV, people with world records, how they train and how they're like".

Swimming is not yet a sport taken to heart in Ghana, despite the abundance of talents and opportunities available in the discipline, and the culture has greatly impacted adversely on Jackson rise regardless.

Competing at the highest level like the Olympic is a profound experience any sportsman would relish, but one that also requires a great level of investment and a well-cut plan to attain.

"Seeing all the top swimmers I met at the Kazan Games and those I’m set up to compete with at the Rio Olympics, they have very large number of trainers, very ultra-modern equipment, facilities and also sponsorships than I have as a Ghanaian"

"They pay attention to training on the swimming details and I think I need more training to reach there" He lamented.

Nonetheless, Abeiku is delighted to fly or simply put, swim the flag of Ghana in Brazil and make the most out of the opportunity.

"I will just go there, do my best. I plan to make history and make the nation proud".

Meeting & Swimming With Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is an American competition swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals in three Olympiads. He also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double the second highest record holders), Olympic gold medals in individual events (11), and Olympic medals in individual events for a male (13). In winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games.

When Phelps broke those records and shed light on swimming in Beijing, Abeiku Jackson was Seven years, and so fast so soon, the young Ghanaian record holder, Ghana’s own Michael Phelps cannot contain the feeling, the prospects of meeting his idol, and swimming side by side with the American swimming legend.

"I don’t know what to say but it will be amazing to see Michael Phelps and swim with him and likes of Chad Le Clos and all those big names, it will be a dream" He smiled.

Face of Ghana Swimming

Ghana is well noted across the world, as a nation blessed with superabundant sports talents, swimming excluded. But this is a rising national star to fly the flag again on the world stage, neither in football nor boxing, but in an event widely regarded as a recreation and one that supplements for a Sunday relaxation.

Ergo when the 16-year-old elementary school boy undress inside the Rio Aquatic Centre, and prepares to dive into the Pool in the Men's 50m freestyle on the 11th of August, Abeiku Jackson will be carrying the hopes of millions of young Ghanaian swimmers, and with a determination to change the face of an entire national sport.

Go Abbey. Go Ghana!

Source: atinkaonline.com